Masara di Dal

Split red lentils cooked in a light tadka

Red Split Lentils

Masara di Dal or Masoor dal as it is also known in India, was a regular in my home during my childhood. It was the ‘go-to’ for my Mum as it cooks so quickly. She worked on the night-shift near Heathrow airport for a catering company so this Dal, which cooked very quickly was often made when she woke up late in the afternoon. She would cook a huge pan full of it and it would last a few days. I remember taking it out of the fridge in the evenings – it would have solidified and would need reviving with a quick Tadka of onions fried in ghee.

Almost soup like – the grains becoming invisible as they cooked down. Spiced with a Tadka that didn’t impact the texture, lacing it lightly with fresh coriander from Dad’s crop in the garden. It is a favourite of mine, and such an easy dish to pull together when I fancy it. I can actually eat it on its own.

When I cook it for my family now, I find it cooks a lot quicker and better if washed and boiled in cold water. I sometimes use double the quantity of garlic, ginger and chillies, as our tastebuds seem to have outgrown the simple way Mum made it, and it is usually served with a side of Masala Bhindi or a dry fish dish – but the Dal itself is still fondly remembered as Nanni’s Dal by my children.

Ingredients: Serves 6

1 cup split orange lentils

1 tablespoon of ghee or oil of your choice (olive, sunflower, vegetable)

1 teaspoon of cumin seeds

Half a teaspoon black mustard seeds

Pinch of hing (asafetida)

Small handful of dried curry leaves

1 medium diced onion

3 inch piece of ginger – chopped finely

5 cloves of garlic – chopped finely

2 fresh green chillies (more or less according to taste)

1 teaspoon turmeric powder

Half a teaspoon of garam masala

Half a teaspoon of kashmiri chilli

2 large fresh tomatoes – finely chopped

Small handful of freshly chopped coriander

Method

  1. Wash the lentils in cold water until the water runs clear, and then bring to the boil in triple quantity water and allow to simmer until the grains cook down (if using a pressure cooker – then a quick 3 minute whistle)
  2. Do not let the water evaporate as the dal must stay thick but runny.
  3. Heat the oil in a heavy based pan on a medium flame
  4. Add the cumin seeds, mustards seeds, hing and curry leaves
  5. When the seeds start to dance or pop in the pan – add the chopped onion
  6. Cook the onion until it turns a slightly golden colour – onion must not be translucent. 
  7. Lower the heat and add the garlic, ginger and green chillies.
  8. Once you can smell the garlic it is cooked. If the mixture sticks to the pan, add a little water
  9. Add the turmeric powder and stir, the mixture should now be sticking together.
  10. Stir in the chopped tomatoes and mash them down whilst cooking
  11. Add salt to taste and the kashmiri chilli and garam masala.
  12. Stir this tadka into the dal and sprinkle on the chopped coriander
  13. Serve the dal with a knob of butter and with fresh chapatti, naan, rice or even a nice big bowlful on its own.

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