Be a Dal

I grew up a meat-resistant child in a meat-and-potatoes household. I didn’t have any precocious ethical issues with meat consumption, I simply never had much of a taste for it. At dinnertime I would polish off my veggies and starches, then sit there nibbling slowly at the edges of my meat, making a game of getting away with eating as little of it as possible. When I moved away for college, I naturally shifted into a meat-minimalist pattern, filling my plate with salad and veggie mains with little bits of meat sneaking in at the sides. After some time reveling in being able to avoid meat entirely if I so chose, I began to realize that I did occasionally miss the heartiness that meat can provide. Around that time, I developed an appreciation for lentils and bean-based stews, those effortlessly meatless mains that even dedicated carnivores can appreciate. Which brings us to dal. I rarely think to make dal, but every time I do, I always end up wondering why I don’t prepare it more often. Dal is relatively hands-off, incredibly flavorful, filling, and super cheap once you have the main spices at hand in your cupboard. The recipe below is one that we made in a plant-based cuisine class with Chef Lewis a few weeks ago. While the recipe is wonderful as is, I suspect it could be made a bit more healthful by reducing, or possible omitting the amount of vegetable oil added – I’ll post an update once I experiment further.

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Dal Makhani with yogurt

Dal Makhani

For cooking the beans…

  • 1 cup dried whole black gram beans (sabut urad dal or kali dal)
  • 2 Tbsp dried red kidney beans
  • 1 tsp red chili powder
  • 6-8 cups vegetable stock

For assembling the dal…

  • 6 Tbsp oil
  • 6 Tbsp ghee
  • 2 tsp cumin seeds
  • 12 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 2 Tbsp ginger root, finely chopped
  • 1 cup onions, finely chopped
  • 3/4 cup fresh tomatoes or 1/2 cup drained canned tomatoes, coarsely chopped
  • 4 green chilies, slit
  • 1 cup plain yogurt
  • 1/2 tsp ground cardamom
  • 1 Tbsp ground coriander
  • 1/2 tsp ground red pepper
  • 1 tsp red chili powder
  • 2 tsp kosher salt

For the tarka (perfumed butter)

  • 4 Tbsp ghee
  • 1 1/2 tsp whole cumin seeds
  • 1 cup onions, finely chopped
  1. Cook the beans. In class we used a pressure cooker to speed things up, but you could also pre-soak the beans and boil them according to package directions. Either way, reserve the cooking liquid for later use.
  2. Heat the oil and ghee in a stock pot or dutch oven. Add the cumin seeds. Once the cumin seeds turn fragrant, add the garlic, ginger, and onion. Saute until brown.
  3. Add the chilies and tomatoes, saute until the tomatoes break down into a pulp
  4. Mix in 4 cups of the reserved bean-cooking stock and add all remaining ingredients. Bring to a simmer and cook partly covered for 20-30 minutes. Stir the beans gently a few times during cooking and add more reserved stock if the mixture starts to look dry.
  5. Remove 2-3 cups of the cooked beans from the pan and puree in a blender or food processor. Return the pureed beans to the pot (this gives the dal a smoother consistency).
  6. Keep the dal simmering over low heat while you prepare the tarka.
  7. For the tarka, heat the ghee over medium-high heat in a small skillet. Once the ghee is very hot, add the cumin seeds and cook for about 10 seconds. Add the onions and cook, stirring continuously, until light brown. Pour the tarka over the warm beans and stir gently to incorporate.
  8. Top with chopped cilantro and/or an additional dollop of yogurt, if desired, and serve.

Note – If you cannot find ghee, you can make a suitable approximation by melting butter in a small saute pan and continuing to cook it until the mild solids separate and turn a rich, golden brown. While this isn’t authentic ghee, it will give you a more accurate flavor profile than simply using melted butter.

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