Dal, also spelled daal, is undoubtedly a staple food throughout India. Dal is a kind of soup that is prepared with split pulses such as lentils, peas and beans. It is an important staple food in many South Asian countries, and forms an important part of the cuisines of the Indian subcontinent. The most common way of preparing a dal is in the form of a soup which is made up from split pulses, onion, tomato and various spices. Dal is frequently eaten with flatbreads such as rotis or chapatis, or with rice which is called 'dal bhat' in Nepali, Bengali and Marathi. This Gujarati recipe by Meera Sodha from her recipe book 'Fresh India' elevates a staple dish into something really special! It has a more complex taste than most dals due to the subtle flavours of the star anise, curry leaves and lemon, all rounded off with the sweetness of honey. This recipe is also vegetarian friendly and can even be made vegan if you swap out the honey for agave syrup or your favourite liquid sweetener.
- 300g yellow lentils
- 2 star anise
- a splash of rapeseed oil
- 1/2 teaspoon mustard seeds
- 1/4 teaspoon cumin seeds
- 4 whole cloves
- 1 green chilli, sliced lengthways
- 2 sprigs of curry leaves
- 2 large ripe tomatoes, chopped
- 1/2 teaspoon ground turmeric
- 1 1/3 teaspoon salt
- 2 1/2 teaspoon runny honey (or agave if making vegan)
- 1 1/2 tablespoon lemon juice
- 30g red skinned peanuts, chopped
Image from Meera Sodha's website
- Soak the lentils in cold water overnight, or in warm water for an hour before cooking. When soaked, wash the lentils in cold water a few times until the water runs clear, then place in a saucepan and cover with 4cm of cold water.
- Add the star anise and set to boil over a medium heat. The lentils will take around an hour to become tender (so you can crush them easily with the back of a spoon.) While the lentils cook, you can prepare the tempering.
- Put 2 tablespoons of oil into a frying pan over a medium heat. When hot, add the mustard seeds, cumin seeds, cloves, green chilli and 6 curry leaves. Stir-fry for 2 to 3 minutes, until you can smell the spices, then add the tomatoes. Cook for around 5 minutes, until the tomatoes become soft and paste-like, then add the turmeric, salt, honey and lemon juice. Cook for a couple of minutes, then turn off the heat.
- When the lentils are cooked, whisk them to thicken, then add the tempering. The mixture will be quite thick, and Gujarati dal is normally thin, so add at least 200ml of hot water (or as you prefer), then simmer for a further 15 minutes. Check that the salt, lemon, chilli and honey are to your liking, then take off the heat.
- Put another tablespoon of oil into a separate frying pan and, when hot, add a sprig of curry leaves and the crushed nuts. Fry until the curry leaves crisp up and the peanuts brown, then take off the heat. Transfer the dal to a serving dish and scatter over the curry leaves and the peanuts. Serve with steamed basmati rice, a green leafy vegetable curry and a side of yoghurt and pickles. Enjoy!