I adore a spiced breakfast. I indulged as much as I could in Malaysia recently, from curries to laksa to curry mee to nasi lemak to roti canai with dal. When I am in Asia, breakfast is my favourite meal. It has so much flavour, so much variety and is always an adventure.
I love a good dal, an Indian spiced lentil soup, cooked until tender but still with texture, just so. Mostly lentils, sometimes beans, my favourite is made with the small moong dal. A bowl of sunshine, dal is bright and cheerful with turmeric, a culinary equivalent of the best duvet on a cold night. On top, spice dancing on tip toes, some herbs, whatever I have got. This is called the tarka (or tadka), the spice mixture that gives dal character and zing. And in my experience, while it is great to be authentic, variety is very interesting here, the dal can take any flavour.
I sometimes add ginger and garlic to my spices for an extra flavour punch, I sometimes add an egg for more body and sustenance (usually boiled until soft, halved and served on top). Today I kept it very simple, some nice dried chillies with just enough heat and rehydrated a touch, some brown mustard seeds, some small tomatoes, fried quickly, just enough to absorb the spice flavour and soften a bit and curry leaves, cooked until just starting to crisp and so fragrant.
There is lots of mixed advice as to when you salt a dal and as to whether you should soak it first. Soaking isn’t essential but it does save on cooking time and results in a speedy soft dal. I salt a little at the start, and add turmeric then too, but I season to taste properly at the end. Some say that salt can toughen the pulses, but this hasn’t been my experience, and I like the dal to take up a little seasoning as it cooks.
Notes on the recipe: Moong dal is widely available in supermarkets, Indian food shops and online too. Curry leaves are widely available in London, I can get them in my local supermarket. If you can’t get them, you could try dried online, which still have great flavour. Or substitute and entirely different but suitable flavour, fresh coriander. This is incredibly good value and a great comfort eat. Enjoy!
Recipe: Dal with Curry Leaves, Mustard, Chilli & Tomato
Serves 2 generous portions or 1 person on repeat for a day (yup – that was me!)
200g moong dal (small yellow lentils, larger chana dal will work fine too)
1 heaped tsp turmeric powder
sea salt to taste
2 tbsp brown mustard seeds
12 good small tomatoes halved or quartered depending on how small they are
a handful of curry leaves, removed from the stem
chilli of your choice, finely chopped (seeds in or our, up to you, depending on how hot you like it)
ghee or butter or coconut oil (coconut oil is a great substitute for lactose intolerants and vegans, I quite like the flavour)
If you have time, soak the moong dal with the turmeric and a little salt in about twice their volume of water. If you don’t, don’t worry, it will just take a little longer to cook.
Bring the dal to a boil over a medium heat. Reduce to a simmer and cook until tender and soft. Season to taste.
Melt your fat of choice for the tarka and add the mustard seeds, chilli and curry leaves and cook over a medium heat for a couple of minutes. Add the tomatoes for a final couple of minutes and serve on top of the dal, which should still be nice and hot.