Dal is a stew made with lentils, which is very common in every traditional Indian household. When a baby starts eating solids, an Indian mother will most likely give him mung dal, as lentils are extremely nutritious. It is rich in proteins and thus, an essential component in a balanced Indian vegetarian diet. More and more people all over the world are switching over to vegetarianism/veganism and enjoying dal as it serves as a wonderful alternative to meat, fish or dairy product (also see Patty’s post on veganism and dal). A diet rich in pulses also promises a healthy fibre-rich palate, which, indirectly, is good for the heart!
A few words before we begin making this wonderful North-Indian dal: all the lentils used should be fresh (new). Aged lentils take longer to cook. It is extremely important that you check the expiration dates before buying dal. Aged dal is also of lesser nutritional value. If you are not sure whether the lentils are fresh, the best option would be to boil the split mung and white gram together (which take longer to boil) with the mung/arhar lentils. Once softened, you could then add the red (Masoor dal) lentils until they are cooked through.
Some additional notes:
- You can replace butter with ghee in this recipe.
- Garam masala powder is available in Indian stores; you can even make your own at home. There are many different combinations of garam masala and there is no unique recipe for this. My favourite homemade garam masala for any vegetarian dish would be a fine powder of the following, lightly roasted spices: five cinnamon sticks (1 inch each), 5 green cardamoms, 10 peppercorns and 5 cloves.
- The amount of water may vary according to individual preference, which will change the amount of salt that should be added for taste.
- This dal is spicy. It doesn’t taste good if you lower the amount of spices. So be generous with the use of spices to experience an unforgettable taste of this North-Indian-style exquisite dal!
- Try using onion paste, if making an Indian curry or dal. Onion paste brings about a rich flavour and an aromatic and thick gravy, which is so appetizing!
Pancharattan Dal (A Mixture of Five Kinds of Lentils)
Split mung pulses (chilkewali mung): ¼ cup
White gram (urad dal): ½ cup
Mung pulses (mung dal): ¼ cup
Split red lentils (masoor dal): ¼ cup
Yellow pigeon lentils (arhar/tuvar dal): ¼ cup
Finely chopped onions: ½ cup
Onion paste (coarsely ground): ½ cup
Finely chopped garlic cloves (big): 10
Asafoetida[http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Asafoetida] (hing; optional): 2 pinches
Turmeric powder: ½ tsp
Cumin seeds (jeera): ½ tsp
Fennel seeds (saunf): ¼ tsp
Salt: 2 tsp (plus extra, if needed)
Sugar: ½ tsp
Ghee (Indian clarified butter): ¾ tsp
Tomato (medium chopped): ¼ cup
Tomato paste: ½ cup
Coriander leaves (finely chopped): 3 tbsp
Cinnamon sticks: 2 (one-inch thick)
Bay leaves (medium): 2
Green cardamoms: 4
Fresh red or green chillies (slit): 4
Garam masala powder: 1 tsp
Oil: 4 tbsp
Wash the lentils (together) and soak them for 1 hour. Boil them with enough water to submerge them in the pressure cooker (two pressures on high flame and then simmered for 12 min) with the finely chopped onions, bay leaves, asafoetida, half the salt and half the garlic until you get perfectly cooked lentils. None of the lentils should be hard when you press them between your fingertips. Ideally, for this recipe, the red and the mung lentils should be very soft and ‘mushy’ after boiling. The other three lentils must be soft but the shape should be intact even after boiling.
In a non-stick pan, add the oil. When the oil starts smoking, add the cumin and fennel seeds. Also add cinnamon sticks, cloves and peppercorns. When the cumin seeds just turn brownish, immediately add the onion paste and the rest of the garlic and sauté continuously over medium flame till the onion paste is dry. Add the chopped tomatoes and continue to sauté for 5 min or till the tomatoes become soft.
Now add the boiled lentils and if you want, this is the time to add some more water till you get the consistency you love (ideally, this dal is on the thicker side). Add the fresh chillies, tomato paste, the rest of the salt, turmeric powder, sugar and the garam masala powder and let the dal boil over a medium flame for 5 min.
Add the ghee and continue to cook for 5 more min. Switch off the gas and garnish with chopped coriander leaves. This dal goes well with naan, chapatti or rice.