A couple of weeks ago I gave a dal demonstration in a West Country theatre, it was part of a double bill with a one man show called Strictly Balti. Now, I really do try not to make a habit of apologising for failing to write my blog more regularly but this time I really AM sorry; Saikat Ahamed’s account of his childhood growing up in Birmingham with Bangladeshi parents is absolutely gripping, funny, emotive and one of the best things that I’ve seen in years and you’ve most probably missed it! If you do happen to read this today you may be able to get a last minute ticket to catch him in Shoreditch tonight or in Chippenham on December 19th. GO if you can, it’s a gem.
And giving a demo’ at a theatre was a first for me, it’s what I absolutely love about my job….. one day I’m making chutney with a class of 9 year olds for the Duke of Gloucester, the next I’m writing about smokey lamb chilli for the Borough Market Magazine. I did promise to post the very simple recipe for the dal and here it is (finally) for those patient people who have sent me emails. Do pass it on to your friends.
To anyone who is not familiar with making or even eating dal, apart from the odd side dish at an Indian restaurant, I can only urge you to have try. We have a huge pot on the go at the moment – I make enough to last a couple of days, and add different Tarkas (toppings) to keep things fresh.
In Britain dal is often just thought of as a lentil dish but in fact a huge variety of hulled, split and even whole pulses are used depending on the country or region in Asia . Most common are masoor dal (red lentils), mung dal (hulled and split mung beans) and chana dal (skinned and split chickpeas) but other legumes such as urad dal (split black urad beans), toor dahl (split pigeon peas) and even red kidney beans can go in too.
Last week I decided to tip all my almost empty jars into the same pot; a mixture of red lentils, urad dal and split chickpeas- it was perfect. Pete even had dal on toast with chutney for a quick lunch, it’s great stuff to have lurking in the fridge for a hungry moment.
What gives this dal its character and kick is most commonly known in this country as the tarka or the tempering: a fried up mixture of spices and aromatics, and possibly onions, shallots or garlic that is thrown over the dal just before serving.
Serves 6 as a main with flat bread or rice, or 10 as a side dish
400 g mung dal, masoor dal (red lentils), urid dal .
1 knob of ginger about 5cm, chopped
3 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 tsp turmeric
1/2 – 1tsp salt
2 generous tbsp of ghee, butter or vegetable oil
1 medium red onion, sliced
3-4 fresh green chillis, sliced
2 tbsp fresh coriander, roughly chopped
squeeze of lemon juice (optional)
Wash the dal thoroughly and check for any tiny stones (I was once responsible for someone chipping a molar – I always check now).
Now place them in a large saucepan with a 1 1/4 litres / 2 pints of water. Bring them up to the boil and skim away any frothy scum.
Throw in the ginger, garlic and turmeric and simmer, with a lid ajar, on the lowest heat possible for about an hour and a half. A ridged griddle pan can help to difuse the heat if you have a particularly fierce gas hob, just put your saucepan on top.
You will need to give the pan a stir from time to time and add more water if the dal is getting very thick.
Season the dal with salt and add more water if you like a soupy consitancy, I prefer mine to be more like a loose porridge.
For the Tarka
Heat the ghee, butter or oil in a separate pan. The choice is yours but I would go for ghee or butter every time, the luscious creaminess is unbeatable.
Fry the onion until golden and then add the chillis for a moment or two.
Tip the tarka over dal, stir it in and then sprinkle with coriander.
You could add tamarind paste, lime juice or even sprinkle over a pinch of Amchuur (an intriguingly sharp powder made dried green mango) instead of the lemon. Or leave out the sharp altogether for something more mellow that would work alongside a zippy curry or pickle.
You can totally transform your dal by frying up a different tarka, the options are virtually limitless but here are some of my favourites.
Always start with the ghee, butter or oil and then fry onions or shallots if you are using them, followed by the garlic and spices. Use your nose and eyes, garlic and spices will take literally seconds to release their amazing aromas or to jump about the pan and then it is time to tip them over the dal.
Tarkas to try
- 3 diced shallots or 1/2 an onion, 2 tsp cumin seeds, 1 tsp black mustard seeds
- 1 tbsp grated ginger, 2 finely sliced cloves garlic, diced flesh of 3 tomatoes
- 1 tsp black mustard seeds, about 8 curry leaves, 1/2 -1 tsp crushed chilli
- 3 cloves garlic, finely sliced
or any combinations of the above.
And, just one more thing, the theatre – The Theatre Shop in Clevedon is the most amazing community theatre, utilising an empty shop unit in the town centre, it’s inspirational. They have loads of great stuff going on during the festive season including The Nutcracker ( Dec 19th – Early January) that I’m going to take Imi along to.
Thank you to Marie-Dominique Demers-King for her great pictures of the Theatre Shop event and to Clare Winfield for the beautiful dal photograph from my book PULSE