“This is one of my most treasured recipes: I crave it frequently and never tire of it. It’s a foolproof dish, robust and endlessly adaptable, and it yields a result far greater than the effort required to make it.”
“My mum and dad got married in 1975. At the wedding, Dad wore flares, platforms and sideburns, and Mum wore a red sari. They moved to a bedsit in west London with a shared kitchen and a single cupboard. Mum would cook this dal then, and she still cooks it now.”
- 225g red lentils (masoor dal)
- 2 tablespoons rapeseed oil
- optional: 12 peppercorns
- optional: 4 cloves
- 1 onion, thinly sliced
- 4 cloves of garlic, crushed
- 6cm ginger, peeled and finely grated
- ½ teaspoon chilli powder
- ½ teaspoon ground coriander
- ½ teaspoon ground turmeric
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 300g tinned plum tomatoes
- In a sieve, rinse the lentils until the water runs clear, then drain and put into a deep, lidded saucepan. Add 600ml of cold water, bring to the boil over a medium to high heat, then cover with the lid and simmer gently for 10 to 15 minutes without stirring, until thoroughly cooked. Like pasta, cooked lentils will be tender when cooked.
- Meanwhile, put the oil into another deep, lidded saucepan on a medium heat. When it’s hot, add the peppercorns and cloves if you’re using them. Stir-fry for around a minute, or until you can smell them, then add the onion. Cook for 8 to 10 minutes, until golden.
- Add the garlic and ginger and stir-fry for a further 4 minutes before adding the chilli powder, coriander, turmeric and salt. Stir well, then add the tinned tomatoes. If they’re whole, pour them out with one hand and crush them with your other hand to break them up before they hit the pan. Cover, turn the heat down and simmer for around 8 minutes.
- The tomatoes should be looking darker and more paste-like now, with little tomato juice running from them. Add the lentils using a straining spoon, then pour in any remaining water they were boiling in, a little at a time, until you get a good consistency. For me, this is a fairly thick dal, thick enough to be eaten from a plate with bread, but you may prefer yours to be more soupy.
- Finally, cover the pan with the lid again and cook on a low heat for a further 10 minutes.
- Taste and adjust the salt, chilli or consistency as you see fit, and serve with chapattis, home-made yoghurt and some garlic pickle or fire-bellied garlic and chilli chutney. Remember to watch out for the cloves and peppercorns.