Most Indian meals should be accompanied by a Dhal – an almost souplike side dish which can be made from a number of different types of lentils. Dhal is an absolute must to accompany South Indian vegetarian meals adding essential proteins. My version is quick and easy, using red lentils and the flavours featured are inspired by the dhals of Kerala and other parts of South India. Tarka dhal refers to the process of adding a Tarka(seasoned oil dressing with onions, tomatoes and spices) to the boiled lentils which adds flavour and depth to the sauce. Unlike most recipes I prefer to “cook” the boiled lentils in the Tarka at the end to allow the flavours to permeate the whole dish. For a richer and creamier consistency that is truly South Indian, coconut cream can be added at the end or else to make it sinfully delicious a knob of butter. Dhal keeps well in the fridge and can be successfully frozen and reheated. Leftovers are also great on toast.
Prep time:5 minutes Cooking time:25 minutes
For Boiled lentils
3/4 cup red lentils
3 cups water
4-5cm knob of ginger peeled and cut in half
1 teaspoon turmeric
3/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 onion sliced finely
1/2 tomato chopped into small pieces
1 tspn fresh ginger and garlic ground into paste (2 small cloves garlic and equivalent amount ginger)
2-3 dried red chillies
1 tspn black mustard seeds
1 tspn cummin seeds
Handful curry leaves
1 stick cinnamon bark
2 tspns vegetable oil
Coriander chopped to garnish
Optional: knob of butter or 1/4 cup coconut cream
Bring water to boil in small but deep pot or saucepan
Add knob of ginger, turmeric and salt
Add lentils stirring initially so the don’t stick to bottom
Reduce heat and cook on a low rolling boil for about 20 minutes or until lentils become soft and create a souplike consistency.
Add water in half cup measures as you go to allow for this consistency to be achieved without the mixture sticking or burning.
In a seperate deep non-stick frying pan or pot, heat the oil over medium heat, then add cinnamon stick, dried chillies, cummin seeds and curry leaves to flavour the oil ensuring spices don’t burn.
Add onions and cook over low heat until translucent for about 5 minutes, then add black mustard seeds.
Fry mustard seeds with onions and other spices for 1 minute and then add tomatoes, ground ginger and garlic.
Cook for another 5-8 minutes stirring regularly until tomatoes have broken down and slightly caramelised. Turn off heat.
When lentils have boiled, reheat Tarka on medium heat in the frying pan, and then carefully pour boiled lentils into the seasoned oil, spices and onions and bring to a simmer to allow flavours to permeate the dhal.
Add extra butter or coconut cream at this point if you are using.
Garnish with coriander and serve.
Serves 4-6 as an accompaniment