This is the dal that had a cherished spot on our dinner table nearly every day. Traditionally, we’d eat it over plain basmati rice, but here, I’ve re-imagined it as a soup. Either way, this is my comfort food, the dish I turn to when everything I hold sacred is falling apart or when I’m missing home somethin’ awful. Something about its humility, about the fact that everyone from my ancestors to generations to come turn to it for sustenance reminds me that this too shall pass. It’s something I can imagine my mum saying to me, and maybe you’ll hear her saying that to you too. Here’s her recipe.
ACTIVE TIME: 45 minutes
INACTIVE TIME: 30 minutes (soaking)
TOTAL TIME: 1 hour 15 minutes
FOR THE LENTILS (DAL)
- 1 cup masoor dal (red or pink lentils), picked through for stones
- 2 cups water
- 1 yellow onion, diced, about 1 cup
- 4 cloves garlic, thinly sliced, about 2 tablespoons
- 1 (1/2 inch) piece ginger, peeled and minced, about 1 tablespoon
- 2 medium tomatoes, diced, about 1 ½ cups
- 1 serrano pepper, halved, optional
- Kosher salt
FOR THE TEMPERING OIL (BAGAAR)
- ½ teaspoon cumin seeds
- ½ teaspoon black mustard seeds
- Generous ½ teaspoon turmeric powder
- ½ teaspoon paprika
- 1 tablespoon sunflower oil
- Handful chopped fresh cilantro leaves and soft stems (about ¼ cup)
- ½ lime
MAKE THE LENTILS (DAL):
Put the lentils in a strainer and rinse them under running water. Add them to a bowl, cover with water and soak for 30 minutes. Drain and set aside.
In a medium saucepan, combine 2 cups of water, the onion, garlic, ginger, tomatoes, serrano pepper, if using, and the lentils. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Skim any scum from the surface. DO NOT ADD SALT YET; it will toughen the lentils, thereby lengthening their cooking time. Lower the heat, cover and gently simmer until the lentils are tender, nearly translucent, and almost falling apart, about 35 to 40 minutes.
Whisk the lentils, releasing their natural starch, and don’t be afraid to mash some of them so the mixture thickens slightly. Add salt to taste. Pull out the serrano pepper if you wish (members of my family like to eat it so I leave it in out of tradition!).
MAKE THE TEMPERING OIL (BAGAAR):
In a small bowl, combine the cumin and mustard seeds. In another small bowl, combine the spice powders. Keep these bowls by the stove because this will move very fast!
In a small skillet, over a medium flame, warm the vegetable oil. Once the oil is shimmering, add seeds and immediately cover so you don’t get covered in sputtering oil and seeds! Add the spices. They should sizzle and bubble a little—that’s the blooming and it’s exactly what you want. Don’t let them burn. The mixture should bloom for about 20 to 30 seconds, no more.
Pour the oil mixture into the lentils, standing back so you don’t get hurt when the mixture sputters again! To get all that spiced oil goodness into the soup, pour a ladle’s worth of soup back into the small skillet (it will sputter!) and stir to pick up all those last bits of flavor. Pour it back into the pot of soup. Stir to combine. Transfer the lentils to a serving dish and garnish with cilantro and a squeeze of lime.
Excerpted from AARTI PAARTI by Aarti Sequeira.
Copyright © 2014 by Aarti Sequeira. Used with permission of Grand Central Publishing. All rights reserved.