Everyday Dal - Indian Lentils
I read, watch, and listen to a lot of content about cooking and I get a lot of inspiration from learning from other cooks and chefs. But a good number of my recipes are born out of desperation. It’s 12:30 pm on a Saturday and I’m ravenous but only have three things in the fridge. What can I cook in under 30 minutes so that I can have something satisfying and get on with my day? That’s how this dal came to be. In general, dal (aka lentil soup/stew), is not meant to be a hassle. It’s a staple dish across India and served probably nightly in most households, alongside rice, roti and some sort of a vegetable or meat dish. It’s an afterthought in most contexts. Weeknight dals are boiling in the back corner of the stove, with a pinch of turmeric, salt, and a tomato, while you focus on the meat or vegetable main for the night. at the same time, most Indians will also tell you no real Indian meal is complete without the reliable, humble dal.
My mom usually made her weeknight dal with a few varieties of lentils, all of them quick-cooking - moong (split mung beans), toor (split pigeon peas), or masoor (red lentils) dal. Red lentils or masoor dal cooks the fastest and with a little ghee, you really don’t need much else with a bowl of steaming rice. You can bloom some whole spices in the ghee before adding it to your dal, which is also called making a tadka or phutana, but I skipped that step to see how bare bones and accessible I could make this without compromising flavor. I also added some non-traditional things here, like chicken stock, loads of black pepper, hot sauce, and a whole chicken breast. You can use a vegetable stock and skip the chicken, to make it vegetarian. You literally just throw everything in a pot and let it cook and voila, 30 minutes later, you have a pot of goodness. You can skip the ghee at the end to make it vegan and substitute with some good olive oil but beware that this is will fully change the profile of the dish. I have served this with rice, by itself, and regularly make versions of this during our Sunday meal prep.
1/2 cup red lentils
1 whole tomato, like plum, quartered
1-2 garlic cloves, smashed
1/4 tsp turmeric powder
2 carrots, cut into large chunks
1 cup spinach leaves or greens of your choice
1/2 serrano chili
2 tsp of hot sauce (I used Original Cholula)
1.5-2 cups water or broth (I use Better Than Bouillon)
1 skinless chicken breast
1 tsp ghee
salt and pepper to taste
Lime juice to finish
Place the lentils, tomato, turmeric, salt, garlic, carrots, serrano chili, hot sauce, and chicken breast in a pot. Pour 1.5 cups of the broth in and bring to a boil over medium heat, uncovered. Cook for 30 minutes, stirring 2-3 times during the 30 minutes. If you want a thinner consistency, add a little more broth and let cook an additional 10 minutes.
Remove the chicken to a plate, shred with two forks, and return to the pot. Turn off the heat. Add the spinach leaves, ghee, and lime juice. Stir well until the spinach leaves have wilted. Finish with freshly cracked black pepper. Serve by itself or with rice or roti.