There’s something incredibly comforting this time of year (or anytime for that matter) about a warming bowl of dal. The combination of herbs and spices (asafoetida, turmeric, chile powder, cumin seeds, garam masala, and curry leaves) along with fresh ingredients (onions, tomatoes, fresh ginger, and garlic) make this dish come alive.
I made this easy Indian dal, a combination of chana dal (split chickpeas) and toor/toovar dal (split pigeon peas) for dinner the other night; and then I made it again the following night. It’s so simple, but oh-so satisfying. My husband and I agreed, we should eat dal more often. It’s understandable why dal is a staple of Indian cooking. It’s vegetarian (vegan, if you substitute oil for ghee), nourishing, inexpensive, healthy, protein-rich, and, most important, delicious — a harmonious balance of herbs and spices.
The term dal, dahl, or daal refers to a dried pulse/legume (lentils, beans, or peas) that has been split. Dal also refers to an Indian legume dish that has been simmered and, usually, pureed and spiced. Dal is a principal dish in India’s rich culinary history. The variety of dal dishes is so vast, differing from region to region, that you could make a different dal every day and not repeat for months.
The dal is cooked separately in a pot (or pressure cooker) with water for about 30 minutes until it thickens and becomes tender. While the dal is cooking, you can make the dal fry — the spices, herbs, garlic, ginger, tomatoes, and onions are fried in oil or ghee — that will eventually be poured over the cooked dal.
And you’ll want to serve with rice or flatbread to scoop up the dal.
I made some methi (fenugreek) paratha (Indian flatbread) to accompany my dal. I took a trip to my favorite Indian grocery store, Patel Brothers, to hunt down fresh fenugreek; 30 minutes later, walked out with a bag full of ingredients: multigrain flour for my paratha, curry leaves, chiles, an array of spices, ginger, several varieties of dal, a big bag of rice, and, yes, fresh fenugreek.
The flavor of fresh fenugreek is elusive to describe — mild, slightly bitter, herbaceous. Nonetheless, it lends a unique and welcome flavor to the paratha. If you can’t find fresh fenugreek, you can substitute with something like spinach, though the resulting paratha will lack that ‘something’ that fenugreek imparts. If you have access to an Indian grocery store, fresh fenugreek (and curry leaves) is definitely worth seeking out. I also like to add fresh fenugreek to saag paneer.
- 1/2 cup toor dal split pigeon peas
- 1/2 cup chana dal split chickpea or bengal gram
- 3 tablespoons ghee and/or oil
- Pinch of asafoetida hing
- 1 teaspoon cumin seeds
- ½ teaspoon ground turmeric
- ½ teaspoon chile powder
- 5 to 6 curry leaves optional
- 1 medium onion chopped
- 1 medium tomato chopped
- 1 green chile split in half lengthwise or finely chopped (seeded for less heat if you like)
- 1 teaspoon freshly grated ginger
- 1 teaspoon freshly grated garlic
- 1 teaspoon garam masala
- Handful of cilantro leaves for garnish
Methu (Fenugreek) Paratha Flatbread
- makes 5 7-inch paratha
- 1 cup wheat atta flour
- olive oil
- 1/2 cup tightly packed chopped fresh fenugreek or spinach if you can’t find fenugreek
- 2 garlic cloves crushed to a paste
- 1 green chile minced
- 1/4 teaspoon cumin seeds
- 1/8 teaspoon ground turmeric
- Wash the lentils well in a sieve with cold running water until the water runs clear. Bring to a boil with 2 1/2 cups of water. Reduce heat and simmer for 30 minutes until the mixture resembles a thick soup, adding more hot water as needed (1/2 cup at a time).
- Heat the ghee and/or oil in a saucepan or skillet over medium heat. When hot, add a pinch of asafoetida, cumin seeds, chile powder, turmeric, and curry leaves. As the spices sizzle, reserve a teaspoon of the red oil for garnish. Add the onions. Sauté for five minutes until the onions are soft. Add the tomatoes, green chile, ginger, and garlic, and saute for another five minutes. Add salt to taste. Add the spice-onion mixture to the dal and stir to combine.
- Take off the heat and add the garam masala.
- Transfer to a serving bowl, drizzle over the reserve chile oil and fresh cilantro.
For the Flatbread:
- Place flour in a large mixing bowl.
- Heat 2 teaspoons oil in a skillet over medium heat. Fry the cumin until aromatic, about 2 minutes (watch carefully making sure it doesn’t burn). Add the garlic and chile, and fry another 30 seconds. Add the chopped fenugreek (or spinach) and turmeric, and fry a minute or two until it wilts. Remove from the heat and add to the bowl of flour. Season with salt. Stir to combine.
- Add 1/2 cup of water, little by little, stirring to combine. Continue to add water a tablespoon at a time until the dough is smooth and pliable. Cover and lest rest 30 minutes.
- Divide the dough into five equal balls. Lightly flour a work surface and, using a rolling pin, roll out the dough until thin, approximately 7-inches in diameter.
- Heat a medium skillet over medium heat. Brush the dough with oil and add to the skillet, oil-side down. Brush the top with oil. Cook until lightly brown, 30 to 40 seconds, flip, and then cook on the other side until lightly brown and cooked through. Cover the paratha with a clean tea towel to keep warm.
Linda Schneider is the blogger behind Wild Greens and Sardines, an homage to her love for all things food and [Mediterranean] travel. What she enjoys most is seasonal, farm-to-table recipes that highlight local ingredients, farmers, and food artisans. She loves going to local farmers’ markets, seeing what’s in season, and sharing recipes with others.