For no particularly valid reason, I’ve not cooked much in the way of Indian food at home. I think I’ve always considered it far better to relished when done really well at a restaurant or in an ex-pat’s kitchen; that it’s too hard to get it right at home. I do still think that way about a lot of Chinese cuisine, due to the need for intense heat under your wok (though I have my sights set on my barbecue gas burner for this summer), but after trying a few quite basic Indian recipes at home recently, I’m happy to welcome Indian food into my regular cooking schedule. Here’s a really basic channa dal recipe that I tried last night after borrowing from a few different recipes, to get what I wanted. Now this channa dal may well not be utterly authentic (rules about when and how to add different spices and whether to cook with ghee or not seem to be fiercely debated), but it was pretty damn tasty – warming, aromtic and filling but not greasy at all. I’ve used a good packet garam masala out of haste, and it was perfectly fine, but you could of course grind up your own masala.
2 cups channa dal (washed and soaked for an hour or more)
6 cups water
Finger-length fresh ginger, crushed
1 tsp turmeric
Salt to taste
2 tomatoes, chopped
Handful fresh curry leaves
2 Tbsp oil
2 finely sliced onions
2 tsp cumin seeds
4-6 whole dried red chillies
1 tsp chilli flakes
4 cloves garlic, sliced
2 tsp garam masala
Boil the dal until it froths and skim off the scum, lower the heat, add the ginger, turmeric, and a bit of salt and cook, partially covered, until the dal is tender but not mushy. Stir in the tomato and turn heat right down.
In a saucepan, heat a little oil (rice bran is good) and fry the curry leaves until fragrant and crispy, then set aside.
While the dal is still cooking, in a saucepan heat the oil (or ghee, or a mix of oil and butter), and fry the onions on high heat until transparent, then turn the heat down and cook, stirring occasionally, until they start to caramelise. When they’re starting to look thin and brown, turn the heat up a bit and add the cumin seeds, dried chillies and garlic. Cook until the garlic is turning crisp, then turn the heat up a bit more, add a bit more oil and the chilli flakes and garam masala. Let cook for just a minute until the spices have dispersed. Stir the crispy curry leaves and the tarka through the cooked dal. Save a bit of the tarka to garnish the top of each plate of dal, plus some freshly chopped coriander leaves. Serve with steamed basmati and plain yoghurt.