Dal is an absolute Indian classic — it’s cooked every day in most households. Everyone needs a good dal recipe up his or her sleeve; often my go-to dish, this one is nourishing, easy to make and gentle on a stressed digestive system. Make sure the lentils are cooked very well — old chana dal doesn’t cook well, so make sure your packet is fresh. If you didn’t soak the lentils overnight, use split red lentils or split mung dal that can be cooked straightaway.
I love my dal with something green and fresh — if I’m eating this for supper, I usually sauté the courgettes to gently cook them, but for lunch I sometimes enjoy them raw. Feel free to add your choice of greens, remembering to cook them for evening meals.
Tarka refers to the technique of adding spices to hot oil, which helps to bring out their flavour (as well as their properties). Everyone has their favourite way of serving tarka — it can either become the base of the dal, or for a really fresh flavour you can pour the tarka over the freshly cooked dal, top with a lid and then leave to infuse for 5 minutes before serving.
TARKA DAL WITH GRATED COURGETTE
200g (1 cup) chana dal, soaked in water overnight
750ml (3 cups) water
2 tbsp ghee
1 tsp cumin seeds
1 tsp black mustard seeds 10 curry leaves
1 large spring onion or
1 medium onion, sliced 1 green chilli, finely sliced
1 medium tomato, skinned and deseeded (see page 260), finely chopped
1⁄2 tsp ground turmeric 1⁄2 tsp sea salt
2 garlic cloves (use wild garlic leaves in summer), crushed
1⁄4 tsp asafoetida
1 large courgette, grated freshly ground
handful of fresh coriander leaves, chopped
1. Simmer the chana dal in the water for about 45 minutes until very soft. Adjust the consistency to your taste, adding more water if you like it more soupy and lighter to digest.
2. To make the tarka, melt the ghee in a pan and fry the cumin and mustard seeds on a medium heat until they start to pop. Add the curry leaves, spring onion and chilli and stir for a few minutes.
3. When the chana dal is cooked, stir in the tomato, turmeric, salt, garlic and asafoetida. Add the tarka to the dal and remove from the heat, placing a lid on top.
4. Meanwhile, in the same pan that was used for the tarka, sauté the grated courgette for a couple of minutes with a pinch of salt.
5. Garnish the dal with freshly ground black pepper and a scattering of coriander leaves, then serve with a handful of sautéed courgette.