How to Cook and Flavor Dal?
Dal is what chicken soup is in the west - comforting food. Dals or lentils, peas and beans are cooked practically daily in almost every Indian home, vegetarian or not. Each region has its own favorites and cooking methods. Dals can range from spicy-sweet to scorching hot, soup like or like creamed thick soup or dry like a pilaf.
The world of dal in India is truly one of India's culinary gem. Most dals do not need soaking. Roasted or oil sizzled cumin seeds adds an extra dimension to dals and helps in their digestion.
Tempering or Spicing Up Dal
The tempering, or seasoning, is what makes the dal come alive. The dal is first boiled with turmeric and ginger and optionally tomatoes. The turmeric makes the dal turn into a lovely golden hue. The dal is then dressed with spices - this is called tempering the dal or giving it a "Chonk".
At this time the Dal is fat free and nature has designed it to absorb various combinations of seasonings and spices.
The most common 'Chonk" is heating ghee in a small pan and then adding asafetida, mustard seeds or cumin seeds, red chilies or chili powder, and optionally curry leaves. Let these spices sizzle and then pour this seasoning on the dal.
Fresh lime juice is added if the dal in the end if the dal is cooked without tomatoes. Finally, Dals are garnished with fresh chopped cilantro and served hot.
Ajika Dal Spice Blend
Dal may be cooked with the Lentil Spice Blend. Boil lentils with tomatoes and salt. Heat ghee/oil and add the blend. One may also add onions and saute till onions are transclucent. Add to the dal.
© Kavita Mehta
photo credit Kavita Mehta