June 15, 2014

Celia's Saucer: Tarka Dal

I've been working on the perfect tarka dal for a while now.

A serious contender for most people's favourite dish, it's warm, comforting, healthy and easy to make. Plus, it's inexpensive, lasts for ages in the fridge and makes a transformative constituent - from a lovely soup (just add a can of coconut milk) to a rich sauce for chicken. 

If you haven't had it yet, go order some from your local curry house or pick up the ingredients and set to work. You won't regret it.

You'll be needing:

400g mung dal (aka as yellow lentils)
As much garlic as your like - I favour 4 cloves or more- crushed
A hunk of ginger-  about a 4cm piece- grated
1 tbsp turmeric
2 green chillis- finely chopped
2 tbsp ghee or oil
2 shallots - finely sliced
1 tbsp cumin seeds
1 tbsp black mustard seeds

Fresh coriander for serving

First things first, be sure to wash your lentils and then immerse them in a heavy-based saucepan (I use my ancient Le Creuset) in cold, salted water that rises about 3inches above your lentils.

Bring to the boil and skim off the white scuzz that will form on the surface.

Turn the heat down to a simmer and add your grated ginger, crushed garlic, turmeric and chopped green chillies.

After an hour and a half, your dal ought to have broken down and have become quite creamy - add more water if you'd like it thinner but I prefer mine to be quite thick in the winter and thinner in the summer. Depending on how I feel, I might also add a heaped teaspoon of vegetable bouillon for extra spoon-licking stockiness.

For your tarka, heat the ghee in a frying pan and add your shallots, finely sliced, until they start to turn crisp and golden. Add the dry spices and seeds until you can hear the mustard seeds crackling. 

Scrape into your dal with a generous handful of chopped coriander, stir and serve with other delights such as rice, naan or poppadoms.

Tarka Dal will keep for about a week if it's covered in the fridge and simply gets better as the days pass.

A dish you can always rely on.
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