I’m a fan of Indian food. And dal, I learned, has two meanings. It’s an ingredient: essentially split lentils or other split pulses such as beans or peas. Dal, made from the ingredient dal, is also a popular Indian dish. Indian culinary guru Suvir Saran refers to dal (the dish) as his equivalent of chicken soup.
“It’s what I eat when I need something comforting, something to remind me of my kitchen in India,” says Suvir, the chef and co-owner of New York’s highly acclaimed Dévi restaurant. Last week we featured Suvir’s recipe for Goan-style shrimp curry.
Dal the ingredient comes in different flavors and textures. The cooking time can vary. One of Suvir’s excellent cookbooks, American Masala (Clarkson Potter, 2007), features a dal made from either masoor dal, which is orange, or yellow split peas called channa dal.
Being the sharp wit that he is, Suvir calls his dish “not-so-dull” dal. It’s vegetarian, packing plenty of flavorful ingredients: cumin seeds, red chilies, red onion, jalapeno pepper, garlic and fresh lemon juice.
It’s simple dish, with just some brief sautéing followed by simmering. Suvir says you can also add a dozen fresh curry leaves (available in Indian groceries and online) and a teaspoon of mustard seeds to the oil and spices in the very beginning.
“The curry leaves and mustard seeds give the dal depth and spice,” he says. “If you want to make a heartier dal substitute two chopped tomatoes for the lemon juice and add them with the last addition of water.”
Suvir recommends serving the dal with simple basmati rice and pita or parathas. And while Suvir likes his dal with “texture,” you can make it “satiny smooth” by adding a little water once the lentils have finished cooking. Then whisk the dal vigorously.
Claude S. Weiller
Vice President of Sales & Marketing
California Olive Ranch