Tarka Dal

This is a recipe that I’ve been developing for several years. As soon as it starts getting colder it’s one of the first things I go to – it’s cheap, delicious, healthy and comforting: everything you want in the winter months.

The one thing with dal is that you can’t make it quickly – it needs to bubble away gently at its own pace – but aside from the occasional stir it doesn’t need any help while it does so. It’s the ultimate easy comfort food, and the tarka (spice topping) really brings it all to life.

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Ingredients (serves 4):
– 300g mung dal or yellow split lentils
– 1 tbsp mustard seeds
– 1 onion, finely chopped
– 3 cloves garlic, finely chopped
– thumb-size piece of root ginger, peeled and finely chopped
– 1 green chilli, finely chopped
– 2 tsp ground cumin
– 2 tsp turmeric
– 1 tsp garam masala
– 1L vegetable stock
– 400g tin chopped tomatoes
– 10 curry leaves, finely chopped

For the tarka: 
– 2 tbsp groundnut or sunflower oil
– 2 shallots, thinly sliced into rings
– 1 tsp cumin seeds
– 1 clove garlic, thinly sliced

1. Start by thoroughly rinsing the mung dal (or lentils, if using); put to one side to drain. Heat about 2 tbsp olive oil in a large saucepan and add the mustard seeds; fry for about a minute before adding the onion, garlic, ginger and chilli. Cook on a low heat for 10-15 minutes, until the onion is soft and translucent.

2. Add the cumin, turmeric and garam masala and cook for a further 2 minutes, then add the drained mung dal. Mix through, then stir in the vegetable stock, chopped tomatoes and curry leaves, along with 500ml water. Bring to the boil, then turn the heat right down and place the pan lid ajar. Simmer for at least 2 hours, stirring every 20 minutes or so (it’ll need to be watched more closely towards the end to make sure it doesn’t stick).

3. When the dal is ready (the mung dal/lentils should have broken down completely), season to taste then make the tarka. Heat the groundnut oil in a small pan, and make sure it’s hot enough by dropping in a cumin seed – if it sizzles then add the shallots, garlic and the rest of the seeds. Fry on a medium-high heat for a couple of minutes until the ingredients are starting to brown, then remove from the heat and drizzle over the finished dal. Serve with chopped coriander, rice, lemon wedges and coconut yogurt. 

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