|Veggies, ground spices and coconut milk add depth of flavor to the simmering lentils.|
|Onions sauteed with whole spices and curry leaves are added to the stew just before serving. This last-minute embellishment, typical to almost all dal recipes, is known as a tarka.|
Dal is the ubiquitous side dish of seasoned lentils served with virtually all Indian meals throughout the subcontinent. Of the hundreds of varieties this particular dal is a favorite at Cafe Drake HRV; we add fresh vegetables to make it even more substantial, and when eaten with rice and a salad, our thick, hardy stew is a complete meal. Successful substitutions for the yellow squash include zucchini, kohlrabi, chayote squash or cubed daikon. In the absence of any of these, just make something else tonight.
Begin by rinsing very well 1 cup masoor dal (red lentils), available at all supermarkets in the dried bean section. Transfer the lentils to a medium saucepan ans cover with 2 cups water and 1 1/2 cups coconut milk (the thick canned variety). Bring to a boil over high heat and skim off any foam that accumulates on top. You'll need to do this at least a couple of times so keep that slotted spoon near the stove!
Now add 1/2 - 3/4 t. turmeric powder, 1 roughly chopped onion, 1 small tomato (also roughly chopped), 2 sliced hot green chilies, 1 roughly chopped yellow summer squash, 1 t. ground cumin and 1 t. ground coriander. Reduce the heat, cover the saucepan partially and simmer until the lentils are very soft and falling apart. Stir frequently to avoid burning and add a bit more water if needed. The lentils should reach the desired consistency in about 35-40 minutes.
Remove the lentils from the heat and season with salt to taste, at least 3/4 t. and probably more.
In a small skillet or saucepan, heat 2 T. coconut or vegetable oil over a medium flame. When the oil is hot toss in 1 t. black mustard seeds. Cover immediately and allow the seeds to pop. Once they've just stopped popping, add 1 t. cumin seeds and let them sizzle for a few seconds, darkening at least a shade or two. Add to the skillet 10 fresh or frozen curry leaves and cover again. Be careful as the moisture from the curry leaves will cause the oil to splatter. Finally, add 1 finely chopped onion to the pan and saute until golden, lowering the heat as needed.
Dump the contents of the skillet into the pot of lentils, stir to combine and heat gently over a very low flame for a few minutes. Check for seasoning, adding more salt if desired.