Dal, that gorgeous spiced lentil soup, is one of those dishes that I revert to on a cold day outside. When I want something full flavoured that requires little attention, something that I can make a big batch of, and eat for the next couple of days, treasuring every bowl. It is also one of the most frugal bowls of food that you can eat. Just pulses, water and spice and some garlic. In season, I add chopped tomato too. If I have it in the fridge, I will add some fresh coriander. Curry leaves are wonderful with dal too, fried a little with the spices. Dal is one of the dishes that I make when I don’t have the time or the inclination to get to the shop, so I work with what I have. To make a meal of it, I add a boiled egg on top, better still gorgeous perky quails eggs, boiled until just set with the yolks still soft.
I use moong dal for this, occasionally chana dal. I prefer moong dal as it is mushier when cooked, whereas chana dal tends to hold its shape. A combination of the two works well too. This time I added some pumpkin, well a kabocha squash to be precise. I love the rich deeply flavoured orange flesh, and the gentle creamy texture it acquires when cooked through. Some coconut milk gives it a layer of richness and mellows it out.
Recipe: Pumpkin & Coconut Tadka Dal
makes enough for 3-4 bowls
200g moong dal
200g chopped peeled pumpkin
1 tsp turmeric
200ml coconut milk
freshly ground black pepper
1 tbsp cumin
1 tbsp brown mustard seed
2 cloves garlic, peeled and finely chopped
1 chilli, finely chopped (and extra milder ones for decoration if you like, as I did)
light flavourless oil like groundnut or sunflower, coconut oil works too
Cover the dal and pumpkin with water in a sauce pan, ensuring that the water covers the dal to an inch higher than it. Add the turmeric and bring to the boil. Reduce the heat and allow the dal to simmer gently. It will take about 20 – 25 minutes to cook. Top up with water if you need to, a little at a time.
About 10 minutes in, toast the cumin seeds in a dry hot pan for about a minute. Grind in a pestle and mortar or spice grinder.
Heat a tablespoon of oil in the frying pan and add the garlic and chilli for a minute. Then add the ground cumin and mustard seeds and fry for a couple of minutes. Turn the heat off.
When the dal is almost tender, add the coconut milk and stir through. Allow to cook further. When the dal is tender it is ready. Season to taste with salt and black pepper. The black pepper is important as it enhances the absorption of curcumin in turmeric, which is a natural powerful anti-inflammatory agent and anti-oxidant. It tastes good too.
Serve the dal with a teaspoon of the spices and garlic (and some extra chilli too if you like, fry it first). Garnish with whatever else you fancy as per the blurb at the top.