A few years ago I was fortunate to travel to Northern India with some friends. It was my first trip there and the sights and sounds of India were colorful and aromatic. The people were gracious and hospitable. India probably has the highest number of vegetarians in the world with its staples of rice and lentils. My travel companions and I found that no matter where we were having a meal; with local residents, at a hotel or a hole-in-the-wall restaurant, the food was always delicious and made from scratch.
Here’s one of my favorite Indian dishes, Yellow dal over steamed Jasmine rice or served with chapati bread. Of course as in any favorite dish, it somehow always taste better when made with love in the country of its origin. Even though my friends have shared their recipes with me and allowed me into their kitchens there seems to be something missing. I've been fortunate to dine with them, break bread and scoop the rice into my hands, but in my opinion I could only give this recipe four stars, when I made it, as this can't be five stars unless its made with ingredients and hands straight from India.
Tip: Prepare and premeasured all of your ingredients before you turn on the stove and begin. The oil will heat quickly and if you burn the tadka ingredients you will need to start again with new fresh ingredients.
Yellow tadka dal recipe
Ingredients for dal
- 1 cup yellow split peas or yellow lentils soak in tap water for an hour
- 3 cups water
- 1 large tomato cut in wedges
Ingredients for tadka
- ¼ cup canola oil or ghee (found in Indian grocery sections)
- ½ teaspoon mustard seeds
- ½ teaspoon cumin seeds
- 1 medium onion, finely chopped
- 5 large garlic cloves, thinly sliced or mashed with mortar & pestle
- 1 teaspoon coriander seeds, finely ground
- ¾ teaspoon ground turmeric
- 2-3 fresh curry leaves
- 1 chopped fresh or dried red chili (optional)
- 1 tablespoon unsalted butter
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt
Directions for dal
- After the dal (split peas or lentils) are soaked, drain and place in large pan.
- Add fresh water and tomato, bring to boil, then reduce to simmer, cover pan and cook until tender about 45 minutes to 1-hour.
- Pick out any tomato skins and whisk or blend with hand blender until emulsified. Keep warm on low heat. If you like your dal thinner, just add more water and increase tadka for flavoring.
Directions for tadka
- Heat the oil/ghee or butter in a skillet pan over high heat until it begins to smoke, then add the mustard seeds until they crackle. Add cumin seeds – cover pan until seeds stop sputtering.
- Add the onion and garlic and sauté over medium heat until most of the onion has turned dark brown.
- Add coriander, turmeric, curry leaves, and red chili (optional).
- Always add the tadka to the dal – never the dal to the tadka
You can always prepare the dal up to three days ahead of serving, but do not add the tadka until right before serving the dal as that is when it is best. Top dal tadka with butter and salt to taste, simmer for another 5 minutes. Serve hot over rice or with chapati Indian bread.
Recipe adapted from Ruta Kahate, “5 spices, 50 dishes”, Chronicle Books, 2007
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