One of the first dishes I learned how to cook when I was in college was red lentil dhal. I was vegetarian then, absolutely broke and had just discovered a love for Indian food. I would cook up a big pot of dhal every time I had a craving for something spicy and warming. I have changed my recipe since I originally cooked it, using freshly toasted and ground spices and adding huge handfuls of fresh coriander at the end, but the simple joy in transforming a bag of red lentils into a satisfying meal remains.
The recipe for this dhal is quite straightforward and there is not a massive amount of prep involved. So many people seem to think that toasting and grinding your own spices is a bit of a faff, the couple of minutes of extra work is worth the effort. Of course, feel free to use ground spices if that is what you have handy. It is really important with this recipe to take the time to cook the onions slowly over a low heat.
1 tsp mustard seeds
1 tsp cumin seeds
1 tsp coriander seeds
1 tbsp rapeseed oil
1 large onion, diced
2 garlic cloves, crushed
1 inch piece of ginger, grated
1 red chilli, finely diced
1 tsp turmeric
250g red lentils, rinsed
600ml hot vegetable stock
salt & black pepper
1 tsp garam masala
handful of coriander leaves, chopped
1) Place the mustard, coriander and cumin seeds in a hot frying pan and toast for around 3 minutes. Grind with a pestle and mortar, and place to one side.
2) Heat the rapeseed oil in a medium saucepan/ saute pan/ casserole. Add the onion and saute for 5 minutes over a medium heat and then add the garlic, ginger and chilli. Cook for another 5 minutes until the onions are soft and golden. Add the spice mix from earlier along with the tumeric powder and allow to toast for a minute.
3) Add the lentils and stock to the pan, and season well. Bring to the boil and then leave to simmer for 20 to 25 minutes until the lentils have completely softened and broken down to a thick creamy consistency. Stir frequently to prevent the lentils from sticking to the pan and add more water if needed.
4) When cooked, add a teaspoon of garam masala to the dhal and stir through. Sprinkle with chopped coriander and serve with brown rice, pitta bread, naan bread or roasted butternut squash as above.