The name for lentils in general is 'dahl'. The same name is used for the dish featured here. In fact, most Indian recipe names are not exotic dish names, but the literal name for the items in the dish; e.g. Matar Panir means simply Peas Cheese. Alu Gobi means Potato Cauliflower. Dahl is not really a soup, though it can be. The concept of soup to start a meal does not exist in India as such, though in Indian restaurants the menu often features some form of 'dahl soup'. In India, people eat dahl nearly everyday with rice or chapatis (flat whole wheat bread). It is inexpensive, easy to make, and rich in protein. There are thousands of ways to prepare dahl. Start with this recipe, a good basic from my Baba, who was Bengali, and substitute one or two items at a time to see what flavour you get.

  • Tasty but gentle for kids.
  • Use the basic recipe for freezing.
  • Add 'spiced' (below) to create a zestier dahl.

Basic Recipe

  • Red lentils (Dahl)
  • Yellow Split Peas
  • Salt
  • Asafoetida (Hing)
  • Garlic Cloves
  • Ginger Root
  • Oil (Any kind you like)
  • Ghee
  • Turmeric (Haldi)

Optional items are in green

Though you can do without them, it will make the dahl flat to omit all the optional items. You can make dahl with very little and it will still taste good. Quantities are mentioned in the instructions.

Fill a quarter of your pot with dry red lentils. This is approximately five cups of dry dahl for an 8 quart pot. Or substitute one cup of red lentils with one cup of yellow split peas. This will get you nearly a potful of cooked dahl. Wash gently with your hands, using tepid or cold water. Three or four rinses should do the trick. You should see a remarkable difference between the first rinse water and the fourth. You are washing away starch, dust, earth and pesticides. Fill the pot to three quarter full with cold water and place over high heat uncovered. The following amounts are for five cups of dry red lentils. Do not be strict with the measurements. These ingredients are for taste primarily. Use your intuition or feel for the amounts. Always put less if you are not sure.

Add to the pot a palmful of garlic and ginger root chopped fine. Add 2-3 teaspoons of salt, 1 teaspoon of asafoetida,. and 2-3 teaspoons of turmeric. The turmeric may float on top looking lumpy. Just give it a good stir and don't worry. It will dissolve. This is no bechamel sauce. Add an ounce or two of cooking oil to prevent a porridge. A teaspoon or more of ghee will give a richer taste. Bring to a boil, (takes about ten minutes), stirring occasionally. Like milk, the dahl will boil over and make a mess if you are not watching.

As soon as it boils, bring it down to medium and monitor the bottom of the pan and the thickness. Leave it uncovered, you need to see what is going on. Add boiling water if necessary to keep it liquid, a couple of ounces at a time. At this point you can choose to add frozen green peas, chopped carrots, broccoli or whole onions. When the lentils look like they are soft, bring down the heat, and let it simmer for half an hour. The consistency should be neither runny nor stiff. Like a thick French Canadian Pea Soup.

Your basic dahl is done. Turn off the heat and take a breather. Easy as pie.

Jazz & Spice & Everything Nice

Add to the basic recipe above after cooking or after defrosting it. The spiced dahl also freezes well.

Spiced you will need:

  • Ghee
  • Oil
  • Hing
  • Crushed Chillies
  • Whole Cumin Seeds (Jeera) or Black Onions Seeds (Kalonji)

To jazz up your dahl, you can 'masala' it. 'Masala' means spice. The following can be a tricky and dangerous process. You are dealing with hot oil, so get the kids out of the way. Timing is everything. The whole process takes about three to four minutes. It's o.k. to have a drink of wine at this point and perhaps put on a Joshua Redman CD.

In a very small pot (a metal ladle bent over works best), on high heat, heat up 2-3 ounces of oil, with 2-3 tablespoons of ghee. If you want it richer, put less oil and more ghee. Study the oil mixture. When it appears to be smoking slightly, carefully throw in a tablespoon of cumin seeds. They will start to roast immediately. After about 20-30 seconds, throw in about a teaspoon of asafoetida, and after ten seconds, throw in a 1/2 teaspoon of crushed chillies. Immediately remove from heat. The whole thing should be smelling very strong and very spicy.

Hold the lid of the dahl pot in one hand, and the hot oil mixture in the other hand. Cover the oil mixture with the lid and carefully lower the two onto the dahl. The lid will prevent hot oil from splashing up on your face. Submerge the ladle into the dahl with the lid on top. Carefully, with the lid on, overturn the oil mixture into the dahl. When volcanic activity has seized, carefully remove the ladle and leave the lid on so the wonderful aromas don't escape. The dahl remains on 'off'.

Take a breather and then clean up. After about ten minutes, take off the lid and give the dahl a good stir. It should smell wonderful. Optionally chop up some fresh coriander (also known as 'cilantro') and sprinkle on top of dahl for taste and good looks. And/or squeeze a fresh lime onto the dahl. Serve with white rice and chili pickle or raw sliced onions. Or pita bread.

I recommend you wait for an hour to eat. It will taste better and still be hot if you left the lid on. And dahl always tastes better the next day. It freezes very well either 'masala-ed' or plain. Make dahl often. Make one dish per session. When you are very comfortable with a dish, then go for two dishes per session. Bon appetit!!

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