Culinary Anthropologist

Two pulse tarka dal

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A good dal has to be one of my all-time favourite foods.  I’ve experimented with various pulses, spices and aromatics and so far this is my favourite recipe.  It is very loosely based on one by Madhur Jaffrey.  It’s quite spicy, so for a milder version cut down a little on all the spices, especially the cayenne, and use less fresh chilli, garlic, ginger and shallot.

You can also make this with other lentils.  A combination of small red lentils and big green-brown ones, or yellow split peas, works well, as the larger ones keep their shape and the little ones disintegrate into sauce. 

Smtarkadal0010ab.jpg‘Tarka’ refers to the method of cooking by which piping hot ghee is scented with spices and then thrown into the dish at the end of cooking.  If you don’t have ghee and can’t be bothered to clarify butter, use a mix of unsalted butter and sunflower oil.  If you don’t have asafoetida or curry leaves, just leave them out. 

This dal is delicious served with rice or flatbreads. If it’s made quite hot and spicy, I like to serve it with a dollop of full-fat plain yoghurt.  You can make the dal in advance then gently reheat it while you make the tarka.  Or go ahead and complete the entire dish including the tarka and keep it chilled until needed.  Reheat gently and simmer for a few minutes, then serve with fresh coriander leaves.

Recipe:  Two pulse tarka dal.pdf

Serves:  8 as side dish or starter

200g (1 cup) hulled and split mung beans (moong dal)
200g (1 cup) hulled and split yellow pigeon peas (toovar dal)
3 UK pints (7+ cups) water
½ tsp nigella seeds
½ tsp fenugreek seeds
½ tsp cumin seeds
½ tsp fennel seeds
½ tsp asafoetida (if available)
¼ to 1 tsp cayenne (depending on how hot you like your food)
½ tsp turmeric
4 tsps grated fresh ginger
6 + 2 plump cloves garlic, finely sliced
2 to 6 hot green chillies, finely sliced (depending on how hot you like your food)
2 + 2 shallots, finely sliced
1 to 1½ tsps salt
4 tbsps ghee (clarified butter)
1 heaped tsp brown mustard seeds
4 dried long, thin, hot red chillies
30 fresh curry (kari) leaves (or dried ones if you can’t get fresh ones)
2 or 3 medium tomatoes, cut into wedges
1 cup loosely packed coriander leaves

  1. Rinse and drain pulses several times.  Place in a saucepan with 3 pints (7 cups) water.  Bring to a boil.  Skim off the scum that floats to the surface.
  2. Lightly toast the nigella, fenugreek, cumin and fennel seeds in a dry pan then grind to a powder and mix with the asafoetida, cayenne and turmeric.
  3. Add spice mix, grated ginger, 6 sliced garlic cloves, sliced green chillies, 2 sliced shallots and salt to pulses and simmer gently, partially covered, for 1 hour or until pulses are totally tender and starting to disintegrate.  Stir occasionally to make sure it doesn’t stick and add more water during cooking if needed.  The dal should be loose, not stodgy. 
  4. Heat ghee in a frying pan.  Add 2 sliced shallots and fry 2 mins.  Add 2 sliced garlic cloves and fry another 2 mins til they start to turn golden.  Add mustard seeds and dried chillies and fry another 2 mins.  Keep stirring.  By now the shallots and garlic should be a deep golden colour.  Crush curry leaves in your hand and, standing back, add to frying pan.  It will sizzle and spit.  Stir a couple of times and then add contents of frying pan to the dal along with the fresh tomatoes.  Immediately cover with the lid to trap the aromas.  Let sit for five minutes, or up to 20.
  5. When time to serve, stir dal to incorporate curry leaves and add half the coriander leaves.  Check seasoning and add more salt if needed.  Garnish with remaining coriander.  Serve with warm naan bread or chapatis, and yoghurt if you made it really spicy.

Learn more about Indian spices here…

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