The hustle and bustle of the holidays has died away, leaving behind a somewhat melancholy peace. In theory, the days are getting longer, but they’re also getting colder. I look out the window at the grey skies and bare trees, pull my shawl closer around my shoulders, and feel grateful for a warm home.
For the most part, holiday feasts have disappeared along with the noise. A few mince pies still linger in a tin, but it’s time to return to something simpler, something hot and homey and nourishing to beat back the cold. The first thing that springs to my mind is dal.
Dal comes in ten thousand guises. There are red lentil dals, green lentil dals, black lentils dals, even pink lentil dals. There are dals that don’t use lentils at all, but other kinds of pulses and beans. There are dals with onions, tomatoes, spinach, broccoli. There are thick dals and soupy dals, and everything in between. And that’s not even counting all the different combinations of spices! I rarely use a recipe anymore, but just throw what I have in a pot, each bowl a surprise. This wild variety coupled with extreme simplicity is just the opposite of all the traditional dishes of the Christmas season. Both tradition and innovation, extravagance and simplicity, are wonderful in their place, and all the more so in contrast to one another.
This is the dal I’ve found myself making lately. Feel free to substitute as the fancy takes you.
Happy New Year!
- 1 C petite green lentils
- 2 C water
- 2 tsp lemon juice
- 1 T ghee or olive oil
- 1 tsp whole cumin seeds
- 1-2 whole red chilies
- 1/4 tsp turmeric
- 1 small onion, finely diced
- 1 1/2 tsp grated fresh ginger
- 1/2 tsp ground coriander
- 1 tsp garam masala
- 4 chopped tomatoes
- salt and pepper
The morning before you want to make the dal, put the lentils to soak in the water and lemon juice.
Heat up the ghee or olive oil in a medium saucepan. Throw in an experimental cumin seed—it should start to sizzle and dance around in the oil almost immediately. If it doesn’t, let the oil heat up until it does, then add the rest of the cumin, the chilies, and the the turmeric, and toast, stirring for about 45 seconds.
Add the onions and grated ginger and saute until the onions start to become translucent. Add the coriander and garam masala, stir, and throw in the tomatoes. Let the mixture simmer for about 5 minutes, stirring occasionally, to let the flavors meld.
Pour in the lentils and all the soaking liquid. Bring to a simmer and cook, stirring, over low heat for around 30-35 minutes, or until the lentils are soft. Season to taste with salt and pepper and serve with rice or naan bread.