A Favorite Dal Recipe

I could eat Indian food every day of the week.

In fact, many weeks I do eat Indian food every day of the week (they know me quite well at the local India Palace). Restaurant Indian food tends to be heavy- and not vegan- with the addition of butter and cream. Oh, it’s delicious, but really pretty decadent for a daily thing. And while I know that I really only need a bowl of soup and an aloo paratha, I often find it hard not to order more… and more… and more… just because I’m there!

Luckily, I am in possession of the Very Best Indian Cookbook Ever Written, also known as Lord Krishna’s Cuisine. This was a gift from my brother, who’s been cooking from it for over 20 years.  It’s 800 pages long and full of so many different ways to eat vegetarian. Some of the recipes are crazy complicated, but every one has been worth it. And I’ve found it pretty easy to make most recipes vegan; cashew cream stands in nicely for yogurt, coconut oil works for butter, etc.

As much as I love cooking, my life doesn’t allow much time for it on a daily basis, so I really cherish the rainy Sundays when I can do a little cooking and stock my freezer. I love to keep several different kinds of prepared dals in the freezer. If you’re not familiar with the cuisine, “dal” is both the word for “bean” as well as the name of a bean dish- generally, soup-consistency. They defrost quickly after a night of teaching for a light dinner, and are so nourishing. If you’re a protein freak, rejoice: dals are naturally quite
high in protein. This recipe I’m about to lay on you boasts 8 grams per 200 calorie serving.

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Today I made one of my favorites- Urad Dal with Tomatoes (Urad Tamatar Dal).  Below is my slightly-tweaked version, but honestly, it’s hard to improve on the original. It’s just simple comfort food.

Urad Dal with Tomatoes – adapted from Lord Krishna’s Cuisine

Serves four-ish.

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  • 2/3 cup split urad dal (they are pale yellow, almost white. May be called udad dal. You can find these at an Indian grocer; locally, at India Spice in PSL or Planet Ozone in Stuart)
  • 6 cups water
  • 1/2 teaspoon turmeric
  • 3 Tablespoons coconut oil
  • one box of grape tomatoes
  • 1 1/4 teaspoons salt
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons fresh ginger, shredded or minced (I like a Microplane for this)
  • 1 1/2-2 teaspoons cumin seeds 
  • 1-2 whole dried red chillies broken into bits (sub hot pepper flakes if not available)
  • 1/4 teaspoons asafetida powder- called hing (see note below)
  • Chopped cilantro, to taste
  1. Sort the dry dal, discarding anything that’s not looking like a dal (rocks, etc). Wash thoroughly and rinse.
  2. Bring water, turmeric, and 1 T the oil to a boil over high heat. Add dal, boil again.
  3. Reduce heat to moderately low. Cover and boil gently for 30 minutes. Add tomatoes. Cover and continue cooking for 1 hour or until dal is soft and fully cooked. It should melt in your mouth- no texture- and it may even be falling apart. Remove from the heat, add salt and stir.
  4. In a separate pan- preferably cast-iron- heat oil until hot but not smoking. Quickly add ginger, cumin, and chili in “rapid succession” (author’s phrase, makes me smile). Don’t even think about walking away from this pan. Fry until the cumin seeds and chili turn brown- it won’t take long- and then add the asafetida powder (hing). Count to two, and then pour the fried seasoning into the dal. Cover and allow the seasonings to soak in. Add cilantro and serve.

NotesHing is a stinky delicious substitute for onions or garlic. You can buy it at Indian grocery stores or online. It will stink up your cupboard, but I kind of like the smell now. If you prefer not to bother, I would add some small diced onion- maybe 1/4 cup? or a clove or two of garlic to the spice mixture at the end (careful not to burn). Also- I like to be generous with the cumin- the original recipe calls for 1 1/4 teaspoon. 



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