How To Recognize & Cook A Few Common Indian Dals (Lentil)-A Collection of Dal Recipes
Dal (Lentil) Identification and Recipes
There are many different lentils eaten in India. Each takes a different time to cook, from minutes to up to an hour. If you eat lentils regularly, I would recommend buying a pressure cooker. It makes cooking much quicker and easier.
Do remember that there are many variants in the cooking of a dal. For example, quality of the lentils, softness of water, whether the dal was soaked or not (soaked dals take a little less time), the intensity of heat and the efficiency of your pressure cooker, will all make a difference. It will get easier as you cook more dals. Remember that if undercooked, you can cook a dal some more but you can't do much with overcooked dal*.
The amount of dal required per person depends on whether you are serving the dal with roti or with rice. Roughly 1 cupped hand per person is usually enough. Rice requires more dal. If you cook dal regularly, I would recommend that you get a pressure cooker. It saves on time and fuel. Also, get a large one, because you can cook small amount in it, but not the other way around (large amount in a small cooker). Remember, cooker must not be filled more than about 1/3rd, it needs room for pressure to build. If you follow instructions, pressure cooker is quite safe to cook in. After all, every Indian uses it almost every day! Serves 4
200 gm. dal of choice
Salt to taste
1/2 tsp. turmeric powder
Water to boil the dal. See each dal for amount
Other additions to dals can be
Finely chopped coriander leaves, added after cooking is finished
A handful of dry methi (fenugreek leaves) or a bunch of chopped, fresh methi leaves
1/2 to 1 tsp. garam masala
2-3 khatai slices (dry, raw mango slices) or a chunky slice of lemon, added during cooking
Ingredients for basic tarka:
2-3 tbsp. ghee or oil. Ghee tastes better but oil is healthier.
1 tsp. cumin seeds
A large pinch of asafoetida powder
2-3 whole red chillies broken up
1/2 tsp. chilli powder
For other types of tarka, see notes below
General Instructions for all dals:
Wash dal well before cooking.
If cooking whole dals, soak in water for a couple of hours or overnight.
The amounts of water to cook a dal is less for pressure cooker. Add extra water when cooking without a pressure cooker, as it has to boil longer. DALS SHOULD BE SOFT, BUT NOT MUSHY WHEN READY.
Add salt and turmeric during the boiling stage.
Cooking Different dals:
Basic tarka or tempering:
Heat ghee or oil in a tarka ladle (from Indian store) or a small pan, until smoking hot. Cast iron Indian ladle gives a nicer flavour. Ghee tastes better but oil is fine too.
Add cumin and asafoetida powder and let the seeds start to splutter. If the oil/ghee is properly heated, this happens within seconds. Add whole chillies and chilli powder, stir with a small spoon, add to the cooked dal and cover with a lid immedialtely. This infuses the flours and gives a nice, 'smoky' aroma to the dal. Leave the lid one.
Other variations of tarkas or tempering:
1. Heat oil. Add 1 tsp. mustard. Add a 10-12 curry leaves, 1 broken up dry red chillie and 1/4 tsp. chilli powder. Pour over dal and close the lid. Or 2. Curry sauce type tempering/tarka; Heat oil, add 1 tsp. cumin seeds, add 1 chopped onion and fry until golden brown. Add 2-3 chopped tomatoes and 2 tsp. Curry Powder or Sambhar Powder. Fry until oil separates. Add to dal. Or 3. Heat oil. Add a little grated ginger and/or garlic, fry until beginning to turn golden brown and then add 1 tsp. cumin/mustard seeds. When seeds splutter/crackle, add 2-3 dry whole chillies and 1 tsp. chilli powder. Pour over the dal. Close the lid, to infuse flavors. Or 4. After spluttering the cumin/mustard seeds, add 1 tsp. each of grated ginger and garlic, fry until browned, add to dal. No chillies in this version.
*Overcooked or left over dal can be added to roti or chapatti flour when making a dough. They makes delicious roti and paratha. For parathas, you have to add a little more salt and spices, and perhaps a teasppon of carom or ajwain seeds.
You can add chopped coriander leaves to all dals as a garnish.