Dal

Dal is one of my favorite things to eat. Long ago, when I worked for a magazine in my hometown of Cleveland, I profiled an Indian chef/restaurateur named Sheela Sogal. She taught me her dal, a fascinating combination of mung beans and earthy black-eyed peas, cooked in water for 45 minutes or so. But what I found remarkable was the way she finished it. It would be years before I heard a technical term for what she did, which was tempering. But it makes so much sense, and even mimics the ghee that would have been used in her native land, though it includes the tasty browned butter solids.

It works with all sorts of beans—red, yellow, or green lentils or Sheela’s mung beans. As Suvir Saran describes it, the seasonings bloom in the hot fat. Do they ever.

Ingredients

  • 1 cup/200 grams lentils
  • 3 cups/710 milliliters water
  • 2 teaspoons ground cumin
  • 1 teaspoon ground turmeric
  • ½ teaspoon shah jeera (black cumin seeds)
  • ½ teaspoon kosher salt
  • ¼ teaspoon chili powder
  • 1 (1-inch/2.5-centimeter) piece ginger, grated
  • 1 garlic clove, minced
  • 4 tablespoons/60 grams unsalted butter
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice (or a generous squeeze)

Method

Combine the lentils and water in a saucepan and bring to a simmer over high heat. Cover, reduce the heat to low, and cook until tender, about 45 minutes. Combine the cumin, turmeric, shah jeera, salt, chili powder, ginger, and garlic in a ramekin.

In a small sauté pan over high heat, melt the butter. When it is quiet and expands in froth, add the spices and aromatics. Cook until the clear part of the butter is a deep brown, then remove the pan from the heat and add the lemon juice. Stir, then stir this mixture into the lentils. Simmer for 5 or so more minutes, then remove from the heat. This can sit and be reheated or served immediately.