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red lentil dahl

There are many different dahls, with many different lentils—toor dahl, chana dahl, moong dahl, tomato dahl, spinach dahl, tarka dahl, dahl talak, etc, etc. This recipe is an easy one (it uses red lentils which cook quickly even without the Instapot) but it packs a lot of flavor.

As an aside, I cooked this last night in my new christmas present: an instapot. (You can make the dahl on the stove top too. I’ll leave notes for that).

First off, I cannot believe they sell these dangerous weapons to people without a license. I burnt my palms (because I didn’t the read the Do Not Touch sticker on the lid). And I got quite a shock when I flipped the ventilation open and a volcanic face-melting burst of steam shot up through my kitchen into the stratosphere (because I did not read the long instruction/cautionary manual). By this point, I was officially frightened of my Instapot. In fact I was damn scared. Think that’s silly? Think when you get your Instapot you won’t be scared? You will be.

You will be.

But who am I? Am I wuss or woman? Do I stand around looking cute and/or do I cook? The kitchen is not, has never been, a place of safety. I know that. You know that. It is no oasis for the meek and mild. The kitchen is war. It is Mordor and if you make it out alive, you too will be glassy-eyed, weary, and want to sleep for weeks in a feather bed in Rivendell while Aragorn brings you hot chocolate and Legolas gives you back rubs. You will be cut, sliced, burned, scalded and scarred. The kitchen is the danger zone. It’s the weapon room and it’s the battlefield. Instapots belong here just the same as the deep-fat fryers, red-hot cast iron skillets, graters, grinders, carvers and bone-chopping cleavers. Prometheus gave the humans fire and now Target has given us the Instapot. Master this new machine of power the same as you have mastered all the others and behold as it shaves a good twenty minutes off the cooking time of this red lentil dahl.

And isn’t that what it’s all about?

1 cup red lentils
2 cups water, 1 cup tamarind water*
1 onion, diced
6 cloves garlic, sliced (reserve one tsp for tarkka)
1 tsp fresh ginger, minced
1 green chili, chopped (seeds left in for spiciness, leave them out for mild)
1 large handful fresh cilantro/coriander, chopped (reserve a little bit for tarkka)
3 tbs olive oil
2 tbs butter or ghee
½ tsp mustard seeds
½ tsp turmeric
½ tsp hing (asafoetida) powder
1 tsp cumin (jeera) seeds
1 tsp salt
1 tomato, chopped

* tamarind water is made by soaking dried tamarind in warm water and then straining out the tamarind. If you can’t find this, just substitute 1 cup water. The tamarind adds a bit of sourness to the dahl. You can squeeze a little lemon juice into the dahl at the end for a little sourness if you like.

1) Put instapot on sautee, low temp
2) Add oil. When warm, add mustard seeds. Wait until they pop and sizzle, then add the remaining spices and stir.
3) Add in garlic and ginger. Stir. Let cook for a moment, then add onion and chili. Cook for one minute, then add in tomato and cilantro.
4) Add in lentils and water.
5) Put lid on the instapot, turn it to porridge, turn the top knob to sealing and set the timer for 8 minutes.
6) When it has finished cooking after 8 minutes, either release the steam with the quick release (watch your hands and face!) or let slowly cool on its own while you make some rice or flatbread to go with the dahl.
7) After it has cooked and cooled and you have safely removed lid, give it a stir. Some people cook their lentils till super soft or even blitz them to a smooth consistency, but I like a little texture. Still, the dahl should be soft and gloopy like a porridge. Transfer to a serving dish.
8) Now for the tarkka, which is a flavored oil or ghee that you pour over at the end. This is also a great way to add extra flavor if you feel the dahl needs something more. You can add extra salt or spices to the ghee/butter/oil. But this dahl recipe should already be flavorful, so in this case: heat up butter or ghee in a small frying pan. Add the reserved garlic and remaining cilantro. Let cook gently till garlic softened then transfer to dahl. Mix in.
9) Serve with naan, chapatis, or rice.

For cooking on stovetop

1) Follow the same steps as above except sautee all the chopped veg and spices on low heat until quite soft (about five minutes).
2) Add in water and lentils and bring to a boil. Then cover with a lid, turn heat down to low, and cook for about 30 minutes. Check every so often and stir to make sure the lentils don’t stick to the bottom and burn. Add more water if needed.
3) When dahl is soft and ready, continue with step 8 above.