One staple ingredient that tends to have a place in my pantry is masoor dal, otherwise known as the red lentil. It actually only becomes the red lentil after the green-brown skin is removed, revealing that bright salmon colour. This split red lentil is faster to cook and dissolves easily compared to the more wholesome masoor that retains its shape and, personally, has a better texture. I pick up my bags from my local Fiji Market or Vinayak Indian grocer in Newtown as it’s seriously cheap and very close to home.
When I’m craving a bit of spicy stodge I can’t go past this recipe for masoor dal; one I adapted after looking at many recipes online. I amped up the spice content and lowered the garlic quantity from a whole bulb to just 5 cloves. Even 5 can be a little high for the average punter so feel free to bring that down to 2. This dal is perfect on its own with some flat bread or brown rice or even with a piece of grilled chicken that has been marinated in similar spices. It even tastes better the following day.
Rinse the masoor dal thoroughly. Bring one litre of water to the boil in a large saucepan. Add the dal and simmer gently for 10 minutes. Add 2 tsp of the garam masala, 2 tsp of the turmeric and the salt. Simmer gently and stir occasionally. As the dal cooks, keep an eye on the water level as you don’t want it to dry and burn. Add water if needed and cook until the lentils are cooked through, approximately 15 minutes. When done, turn off the heat and set aside.
Heat the two oils in a medium frying pan over low heat, add the onion and cook for approximately 15 minutes, or until soft without browning them. Add the garlic, ginger and chopped chilli. Fry for 1 minute then add the remaining 1 tsp each of garam masala, turmeric and cumin. Fry for 2 minutes and don’t let it burn. Remove 2 tbsp of this onion mixture for the garnish, set aside.
Add the tomatoes and coriander to the onion mixture and cook, stirring constantly, until the tomato softens. Scrape this into the cooked dal and simmer for a few minutes to incorporate. Taste for seasoning.
Cut the remaining 1 large red chilli in half lengthways, drizzle or spray with oil and sprinkle over a little garam masala and cumin seeds. Heat a small frying pan over medium-high heat, lay the chilli halves cut-side down in the pan and cook until it slightly blackened. Turn over and cook the other side.
To serve the dal, warm some flat bread and simply garnish the masoor dal with the reserved 2 tbsp of spiced fried onion and blackened chilli halves. Throw on a few leaves of coriander as well.