A good dal always goes down well at my parents’ house – with nine hungry people around the dinner table, including five vegetarians and a wheat-avoider, as well as various dislikes for particular cuisines, vegetables and herbs & spices, it can be hard to find something that fits into the centre of the venn diagram of everyone’s food preferences. Chana Dal is one of those things: it tastes beautiful, can usually be made in one pot with little fuss, is pretty healthy and it costs next to nothing to make. Chana Dal is great as a standalone midweek dinner, or can be a side for meat or vegetable dishes to feed a crowd.
I’d used this Chana Dal recipe before, from Meera Sodha’s Made in India: Cooked in Britain^, and it is simple to make but still richly spiced, so when I invited my sister over for dinner last week I decided it would be the perfect dish for us to share over wedding talk (and a selection of gluten free beers from Beer Ritz). The Chana Dal is wonderfully thick and warm-tasting, with a beautiful golden-yellow colour.
The original recipe is available in Meera’s book, along with lots of other fresh, home-style Indian recipes, accompanied by beautiful bright pictures, and fascinating tidbits of stories and history. Here I’m sharing my interpretation of the dish. Be sure to check out Meera’s second book, Fresh India^
Making Chana Dal with Garlic Tarka another day? Pin it so you don’t forget!
The Chana Dal with Garlic Tarka recipe:
- 400g chana dal
- 2 tblspn. coconut oil
- 2-3 red onions (depending on size)
- 1 tblspn. cumin seeds
- 3 cloves garlic
- 1 tsp garam masala
- ¼ tsp. hot chilli powder (or more/less to suit your tastes)
- Salt & pepper to taste
- 2 tblspn. coconut oil
- ½ tsp. mustard seeds
- 4-6 cloves garlic (dependant on size & taste)
- 2 whole fresh red chillies*
- Thoroughly rinse the dry dal in cold water and add to a large pan (use the pan you plan to serve the dish in – I used a cast-iron casserole-style pan, but any big pan will do. Ensure that it is large enough for the dal to expand as it takes on water). Cover the dal with cold water, bring to the boil, then turn the heat right down and simmer for around 40 minutes. Stir regularly, to stop the lentils sticking to the bottom of the pan, and top up with hot water as required to ensure they aren’t cooked dry (add any extra water a little at a time: the aim is for the water to be cooked away when the lentils are ready to eat, to avoid draining). Even though they’ve been rinsed, the lentils will probably produce some froth as they cook – have a bowl or jug and a large spoon on hand to remove this from the surface of the pan at regular intervals.
- Around 15 minutes into the dal’s cooking time, finely slice the onions, then heat the oil in a frying pan. Add the cumin seeds and let them sizzle for a minute or two before adding the sliced onion. Caramelise these together on a low heat for 15-20 minutes. Slice the garlic and add it to the onions. Turn up the heat and continue to fry for a couple of minutes, until the garlic begins to brown.
- As the lentils become soft, after around 40 minutes, ensure that they have soaked up all the water in the pan and then add the onions, along with the garam masala, chilli powder and salt. Stir, add a little water if required to loosen, and put on a very low heat to keep warm.
- For the garlic tarka, begin by slicing the garlic and scoring the chillis. Heat the oil in a frying pan (reuse the one that you cooked the onions in), add the mustard seeds and cook for a few minutes on a high heat until they begin to pop. Add the garlic and chillis and cook until the garlic begins to turn golden-brown, then immediately drizzle the tarka over the dal, transfer to the table, and dig in.