Yellow Dal

 

  

Dal, dal, everywhere dal.  That’s what it seemed like after my yellow dal madness.  There is an Indian restaurant near my office I like to go to at least once a week.  I get the Chicken Korma, that luscious Mughal dish that braises meat in yoghurt, cream, and almonds.  I also love a dal with that, the lentil side dish ubiquitous across India.  One of my favorites is Makhani  Dal, another Punjabi dish, made with black lentils and slow cooked for hours, many times with cream, but always with cumin and garam masala and served with rice and naan bread.  But, paired with Chicken Korma I go for a yellow dal, made with what I think of as yellow-spit peas.  Apparently, Indians don’t actually eat this kind of dal, it being more a creation of Indians who have come to the new world.  Such purities matter not to me for these purposes.   For me, it is just a transport device taking me to an exotic subcontinent, thick with the smell of Indian spices, the blaring honking horns of traffic jams and languages, the classic Muslim and Hindu architecture, the multi-colored sarongs.  I have never been to India, but some day I will go, and until then, I will use these dishes to fantasize about such a trip. 
Wanting to capture these midweek interludes at home, I set about making a yellow dal dish.  Since there really is no one such thing, the variety is great.  I found a recipe for a so-called Mountain Dal from Nepal.  I tried that first and did not like it at all.  Not that there was anything wrong with it, I just learned that I am not a big fan of cardamom.  Indeed, that’s what these recipes are at heart, a reflection of the spices and techniques of their region.  Unhappy with the Mountain Dal, I decided to prepare another version, and why stop there?  So, I chose another style to compare.  Pictured above with the red pepper slivers is a dish from southern India.  As you might imagine, it is cooked with coconut milk, a primary ingredient of southern Indian cooking.  Also above with the cilantro is a Delhi dal.  That was the most basic recipe, but still included the essentials:  turmeric, onion, cumin, garlic, garam masala.  In all of these I learned the basic dal technique, which is to cook the lentils in water with just the turmeric, and then when they are done, add in an onion, spice, oil mixture for flavoring.  The simplest recipe I have included bellow.  Try it for your own taste of Delhi.
   
Ingredients:
16 oz yellow lentils
1/2 tsp ground turmeric
4 cups water
1 tsp salt
1 tomato, diced
3 tbsp vegetable oil
1 tsp cumin seeds
1 yellow onion, diced
4 cloves garlic, minced
½ tsp cayenne pepper
1 tsp garam masala
Directions:
Rinse the lentils and add to a pot with the water and turmeric over high heat.  Bring to a boil and turn down the heat to a simmer.  Cook approximately 40 minutes.  Add the salt and tomato and cook another 5 minutes.  Meanwhile, warm the oil in a small frying pan over medium-high heat.  Add the cumin cook to release the flavors, about 30 seconds.  Add the onion and garlic and cook, stirring occasionally, until the onions are golden, about 5 minutes.  Stir in the cayenne and garam masala.  Stir the entire mixture into the lentils.  Cook the lentils a few minutes more to incorporate the flavors.  Mash some of the lentils and or cook down a little of the liquid if desired.  Serve with rice.

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