Don’t shy away from trying these spice-rich dishes. Here’s a recipe for the famous Indian lentil dish Tadka Dhal, a comforting, delicious meal.
Books for Cooks
We recommend: “The Indian Family Kitchen” by Anjali Pathak (Clarkson Potter, $27.50).
What’s special: Some classic Indian dishes and some others updated with global accents and new ingredient choices. Pathak, whose grandparents founded the Patak’s Indian food brand found in grocery stores, relies on her own family history, her travels, and culinary training to develop a variety of spice-rich dishes. Don’t be surprised to find quinoa, Greek yogurt and burrata cheese along with the more traditional options.
When I’m tired I crave dhal — it’s like a hug in a bowl. To bulk it out and make it more of a meal, I stir in some fresh greens such as spinach or watercress — a great way to use up old veg.
This is probably the most famous lentil dish coming out of India — yellow lentils tempered with spices and the usual holy trinity of garlic, ginger and chilies. It has always been a favorite of mine, and it would grace our family dinner table at least once a week when I was growing up. There are lots of different recipes for flavoring the oil (tadka), so play around with your spice pantry and see what you come up with. If you don’t have half of these spices, then don’t worry; just add a tablespoon of your favorite spice paste and it will taste just as delicious.
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Makes 4 servings
1½ cups dried toor dhal (yellow lentils/yellow split peas), rinsed in several changes of water
1 teaspoon ground turmeric
2 black cardamom pods (optional)
3 tablespoons vegetable oil
2 cinnamon sticks
4 green cardamom pods
2 teaspoons black mustard seeds
1 teaspoon cumin seeds
2 scallions, finely sliced
2-3 chilies, any color, seeded if you don’t like it fiery, some chopped and the rest left whole
2 fat garlic cloves, finely chopped
1 tablespoon peeled and finely chopped fresh ginger
6 cherry tomatoes, cut in half
Good pinch of sea salt, or to taste
1 teaspoon sugar, or to taste
Juice of ½ lemon, or to taste
Lots of chopped cilantro, to garnish
1. Gently boil the lentils in a large saucepan of cold water (around 4 cups will do) and stir in the turmeric and black cardamom pods (if using) — this will add a subtle smoky flavor. Allow to cook for about 45 minutes, or until the lentils have softened and started to break down. Skim off any foam that sits on the top and give the lentils a stir every now and again in case they begin to stick to the bottom of the pan. If they boil dry, add more water.
2. Once the lentils have softened, turn down the heat and make the tadka. Gently heat the oil in a skillet and add the cinnamon sticks, green cardamom pods and cloves. When the cardamom pods have turned white and the heads of the cloves have swollen, you are ready to stir in the mustard and cumin seeds. When they are sizzling, stir in the scallions, chilies, garlic and ginger.
3. After a minute, stir through the tomatoes and turn off the heat. Pour the tadka into the dhal so that it floats on top. This is the traditional way to serve it, with the scented oil sitting on top, but I prefer to stir it through. Season with salt, sugar and lemon juice. Finally, stir in plenty of chopped cilantro and serve with some rice or bread for the ultimate comfort food.