Hankering for the kind of Indian food you can’t get at your local “Curry in a Hurry”? That’s because Indian food should be cooked at home in small batches for people you love, and that’s what London-based chef and writer Meera Sodha brings to the table in her new cookbook, Made in India. Your dal called. It needs more garlic.
Chana dal, otherwise known as chickpea lentils, come from splitting and skinning black chickpeas (the most popular variety in India). Because they belong to the chickpea family, they’re naturally very delicious and need little teasing before they turn into a gorgeous-tasting dal.
A tarka is a hot oil that is flavored with spices, garlic, and/or chili; it is added right at the end of a dish to enrich it. I’ve used golden garlic in this recipe, made by browning sliced garlic cloves to release their sweetness and depth.
- 14 ounces chana dal (or yellow split peas if these are easier to find)
- 4 tablespoons canola oil
- 1 tablespoon cumin seeds
- 1 large onion, thinly sliced
- 6 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
- 1 teaspoon garam masala
- 1/2 teaspoon chili powder
- 1 teaspoon salt (or to taste)
- 1/2 teaspoon mustard seeds
- 2 fresh red chilies, pricked with a knife in several places
For the dal
Rinse the dal in a couple of changes of cold water, until the water runs clear, and then put in a saucepan. Pour in 5 1/4 cups of cold water, bring to a boil, and simmer for around 40 minutes, or until cooked. You’ll know it’s cooked because the lentils will become soft, with no bite or chalky texture. Scum will appear while you’re boiling, which is completely normal; just remove it using a spoon and top up the water if necessary.
Put 2 tablespoons of oil into a frying pan on a medium heat and, when it’s hot, add the cumin seeds, followed by the onion. Cook for around 15 minutes, until the onion has caramelized, then add half of the garlic and fry for a couple of minutes.
Add this mixture to the dal, along with the garam masala, chili powder, and salt. Taste and adjust any seasoning as you see fit. Add water to adjust the consistency to your liking, then transfer the dal to whatever you’re serving it in.
For the final flourish, make the garlic tarka. Carefully wipe the frying pan clean with some paper towels and put it on a medium heat. Add the remaining 2 tablespoons of oil, followed by the mustard seeds. When they pop, add the rest of the garlic and the red chilies. Watch you don’t cook the garlic for too long, as it will taste bitter. The very moment the edges of the garlic start to turn golden, take it off the heat and drizzle the tarka over the dal, placing the chilis on top as a garnish.
Stir through at the table and serve alongside rice, chapatis, and some pickles.