I specifically remember encountering lentils at the school cantine when I was 11. The little things were brown and mushy, tasted like earth, and some of them even seemed to be sprouting. To me, this was proof that school meals were not for me. I went home, told my parents of the horrors of the cantine (they also served mashed herring), and was off the hook from eating school lunches for the rest of my time at that particular establishment. Had they served dals like this at the school instead, I may have discovered my love for lentils a whole lot earlier.
how to make this (not at all authentic) coconut dal
This dish has three parts (a dal, a quick-pickle and a tadka), but doesn’t take too long to make as some items can be prepared while others cook.
- Heat about 2 Tbsp vegetable oil in a medium pot, over medium heat.
- Chop 1 medium onion into small pieces and add it to the pot, stirring occasionally, until softened and slightly golden around the edges.
- Finely grate in a half-thumb sized piece of ginger (fresh or frozen) and 3 cloves of garlic.
- Stir everything in, then add a handful each of yellow lentils, yellow split peas and red lentils (you should probably rinse these first, but I often forget to do it and everything always works out just fine).
- Add in roughly 1 tsp each of ground coriander, ground cumin, ground turmeric, garam masala and curry powder. Season with salt and black pepper and keep cooking and stirring until you can smell the spices and the bottom of the pot sounds like it’s starting to get dry (about 30 more seconds).
- Add most of a small can of coconut milk, reserving enough for topping later, top with enough water to cover everything generously (about 750mL) and bring to a boil. Give everything a swirling stir and reduce heat to medium-low.
- Let simmer without stirring, until the legumes are tender and most of the liquid is absorbed (15-20 minutes). While the dal is simmering, prepare the toppings.
- For the quick-pickle: in a small bowl, combine the zest and juice of a small lime* with one small or half a medium red onion, a bit of red cabbage, and a bit of a green onion, all thinly sliced. Top with water so everything is mostly covered in liquid. Add in a generous pinch of salt and a generous pinch of sugar, mix, and let sit.
- For the tadka: in a small saucepan, on medium heat, add some cumin seeds, coriander seeds, mustard seeds and cashews. Toast until the spices become fragrant (this won’t take very long), then add enough vegetable oil and/or butter to thinly cover the bottom of the pan (or use ghee if you have it!). When the oil is hot and things start to sizzle, add half a teaspoon of curry powder, a small pinch of salt, and a clove of garlic, minced. Cook, stirring constantly, until the garlic starts changing colour. Stir in a sprinkling of chili flakes if you like it hot, and take the pan off the heat as soon as one the seeds has popped.
*alternatively, if you keep lime zest in the freezer like I do and don’t have any citrus on hand, you can replace the lime juice with your vinegar of choice (I use about 2 Tbsp of distilled vinegar)
Serve dal alone or over a whole grain (rice, amaranth, sorghum or millet all work well), drizzle on the leftover coconut milk then the tadka, and top with the quick-pickled vegetable and herb medley.
Voilà! That’s it. A delectably delicious lentil dish that is bound to leave nothing but good memories.