Yellow Lentil Dal with Fenugreek and Tadka
1/3 cup ghee or coconut oil
2 tsp grated fresh ginger
1 tsp finely minced garlic
1 Tbsp sea salt, divided
1 tsp turmeric
1 green chile (jalapeño or serrano) cut in half lengthwise
1 large tomato, cut into 1/2-inch dice
2 cups toor dal (split yellow lentils), masoor dal (split red lentils), or chana dal (yellow split peas)
1 Tbsp brown mustard seeds
1 Tbsp coriander seeds
2 tsp cumin seeds
1 small dried red chile, or 1 tsp red pepper flakes
1 large onion, cut into 1/2-inch dice (about 2 cups)
2 cups coarsely chopped fresh fenugreek or 1 cup coarsely chopped cilantro leaves, including some roots and stems, plus additional leaves for garnish
Fresh lemon juice to taste
Whole milk Greek yogurt, for garnish
1. In a large pot or Dutch oven over medium high heat, warm 2 tablespoons ghee. Add the ginger, garlic, 2 teaspoons salt, turmeric, and green chile, and cook until aromatic, about 2 minutes. Add the tomato and cook several more minutes, until most of the moisture has evaporated. Add the lentils and 6 cups of water, and bring the mixture to a boil, stirring occasionally. Lower the heat and simmer, partially covered, until the lentil texture is soft and thick, and resembles a rough purée, about 1 hour.
2. Meanwhile, make the tadka. In a large sauté pan over medium heat, warm the remaining ghee. When hot, add the mustard, coriander, cumin seeds, and dried red chile, stirring constantly until fragrant, about 2 minutes.Add the onion, increase to high, and continue to cook until the onion goes from translucent to brown around the edges, about 15 minutes. Don’t be afraid to get the onions dark. Add the chopped fenugreek or cilantro and continue to cook about 5 more minutes, until it wilts slightly but retains its bright color.
3. Remove the whole chile from the pot of cooked dal and stir in the tadka. Season to taste with additional salt and cook over medium-low heat for 10 to 15 minutes to allow the flavors to combine. Add lemon juice to taste and cook 5 minutes before serving. Garnish each portion with a spoonful of yogurt and a few cilantro leaves.
Makes 6 to 8 servings
DAL A catchall word that refers to three broad categories of split, dried pulses—lentils, peas, and beans—as well as the purée made with them.
TADKA A perfumed butter made by frying different combinations of fragrant spices and seasonings, onions, ginger, garlic, and chiles in ghee, or clarified butter. “Tempering” is the literal translation, which refers to the process of using ghee to extract the essence, aroma, and flavor of spices.
COCONUT OIL Occasionally I use coconut oil for my tadka. It imparts its own unique and equally pleasing aroma and flavor.
FENUGREEK LEAVES Fenugreek leaves have an earthy, grassy aroma and bitter yet captivating flavor that works well with starchy ingredients like potatoes. Finding fresh fenugreek is not easy; I use cilantro (with roots intact) most of the time. But I just happened to have a bunch of fenugreek from Ayers Creek Farm. Some Indian and Asian groceries carry frozen or dry fenugreek, both of which can be used. North Portland’s Fiji Emporium is your best bet.
LENTIL TEXTURE Each lentil variety has its own unique texture and cooking time. Taste as you go. Split lentils can go from too firm to mushy in no time, which may not matter if you’re making dal, but if you want them to hold their shape, sample them frequently.
WHOLE SPICES Whole spices offer a range of unique flavors that ground spices lack. For dal, the whole spices are fried in ghee, giving them a toasty flavor. Other dishes might call for toasting, grinding, roasting, or soaking the spices, each method imparting a flavor that is the essence of the dish.
LEMON JUICE The last-minute addition of lemon juice punches up each of the individual flavors, creating a whole that is more complex and memorable than the sum of its parts. Don’t omit it.