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A bowl of orange lentil daal garnished with green herbs sits on the left against a light pink background. On the right, the text reads "Delicious Daily Daal." In the bottom right corner, an icon of 10 almonds is accompanied by the text "10 almonds.

Delicious Daily Daal

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You’re not obliged to eat this every day, but you might want to. The reason we called this one this, is because it’s a super simple recipe (don’t be put off by the long ingredients list; it’s mostly spices making it look long) which, after you’ve done it a couple of times, you could practically do it in your sleep quickly and easily.

The name “lentil daal” is a bit like “naan bread”—a redundant tautology repeated more than once unnecessarily, but it helps for international clarity. The dish is usually served with naan, by the way, and rice. We don’t have room for those today, maybe we’ll do them another day; for now, you can just cook rice how you normally do, and buy naan if necessary.

Writer’s note: I love strong flavors; many people don’t. For this reason I’m going to give a “basic” version. Please feel free to multiply the spices if you feel so inclined. Where I give “one teaspoon” of a spice below, I’d use a tablespoon at home. Chili peppers can vary in heat a lot even within the same type, so what I do for any given batch is taste one (raw), judge the heat, and use an appropriate number of peppers accordingly. If you don’t want to do that, I suggest just guessing low (as per the instructions below) and if you find at the end you want more heat, you can always stir in a little hot sauce. I know that sounds heretical, but at the end of the day, the primary goal of cooking is to have the meal you want at the end of it.

You will need

  • 1 1/2 cups red lentils
  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • 1 large bulb garlic, minced
  • 1 oz ginger, grated
  • 2 hot peppers (e.g. serrano), chopped
  • 1 tsp ground cumin
  • 1 tsp ground coriander
  • 1 tsp ground turmeric
  • 1 tsp garam masala (this is also ground, but it doesn’t come any other way)
  • 1 tsp chili flakes (omit if you’re not a fan of heat)
  • 2 tsp cracked black pepper
  • 1 tsp salt ← I wouldn’t recommend multiplying this one unless later, to taste. In fact, instead of 1 tsp salt I use 2 tsp MSG, which has less sodium than 1 tsp salt. But “1 tsp salt” is the “easy to find in the store” version.
  • 2 large or 3 small tomatoes, chopped (or 1 can chopped tomatoes)
  • 2 shallots, thinly sliced
  • 1 tsp cumin seeds
  • 1 tsp mustard seeds
  • 1 tsp coriander seeds
  • 1 tsp black peppercorns
  • 1 lime
  • 1/2 cup fresh cilantro, or if you have the “that tastes like soap” gene, parsley, chopped
  • Coconut oil for cooking (if you don’t like coconut, consider springing for avocado oil—if you use olive oil, it’ll add an olivey taste which changes the dish a lot; not inherently bad, but it feels a lot less like traditional daal; seed oils are less healthy and we don’t recommend them; ghee is a traditional option and not bad in moderation, but not as healthy as the oils we mentioned first)
  • Water for cooking the lentils

Method

(we suggest you read everything at least once before doing anything)

1) In a saucepan, boil water and add the lentils; let them simmer while doing the next things.

2) Sauté the onions until translucent. This should only take a few minutes.

3) Add the garlic, ginger, and hot peppers, and keep stirring for another couple of minutes.

4) Add the ground spices (cumin, coriander, turmeric, garam masala) chili flakes, and cracked black pepper, as well as the salt or MSG if using (not both), and stir them in quickly but thoroughly.

For the next step, you may need to transfer to larger pan if your sauté pan isn’t big enough to take the volume; if so, that’s fine, the sauté has done its job and can have a rest now. If your sauté pan is big enough, just carry on in the same pan; this is perfect.

5) Add the lentils with the water you cooked them in (there might not be much water left now, as the lentils will have absorbed a lot of it; this is fine) as well as the chopped tomatoes.

6) Simmer until it has the consistency of a very thick sauce (you can add a splash more water here and there if it seems to need more). In the West it’s common to serve lentils “al dente”, but in the East it’s usual to (for dishes like this) cook them until they start to

7) Add the juice of at least 1/2 of your lime, or the whole lime if you feel so inclined.

8) In a pre-heated skillet, flash-fry the sliced shallots and the seeds (cumin, coriander, mustard, black peppercorns) at the hottest temperature you can muster. Don’t worry if the oil smokes; we’re only going to be at this tadka-making stage for a moment and nothing will stick provided you keep it moving. When the seeds start popping, it’s ready. Add it all to the big pan and stir in.

9) Add the cilantro-or-parsley garnish once you’re ready to serve.

Enjoy!

Learn more

For those interested in some of the science of what we have going on today:

Take care!

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