26 April 2011

Dal 1 - yellow split pea

First of all: I've not been slacking. I've been on holiday. Within a few hours of returning to London we saw people fighting with knives in the afternoon at the top of Mare Street, Hackney Central. Young men running at each other in the road, one with a dog and one with a weapon in his hand.

Still, the weather was great and Hackney in the sun is easily one of the best places in the world. If you haven't sat in the the lovely garden of St John at Hackney or visited the nearby Sutton House (a National Trust property no less) then I recommended checking them both out. St John has a very nice walled garden.   

So, on to dal! Dal seems like a good idea most of the time. It's cheap, healthy if you go easy on the ghee, and most important of all, it tastes amazing. I'm going to cook dal till it tastes perfect. There are just so many recipes out there though - where's a man to start?  I decided to begin my quest by making a basic version using my modest knowledge of Indian cooking and then take it from there by researching other recipes. Here it is.

  • onions and a little garlic
  • cumin, coriander, turmeric, garam masala, green chilli,
  • yellow split peas
  • ghee

Cumin and coriander are such a good combination that it seemed wise to start with them.

Fry a couple of chopped small onions in three teaspoons of ghee for ten minutes with a little garlic. Add a teaspoon of coriander seed and three of cumin. Fry for another few minutes until you can smell them starting to give up their oils. Add two chopped green chillies (I keep a few in the freezer for times like this when you are cooking out the store-cupboard), a few shakes of turmeric and garam masala  and the yellow split peas (the amount in the jar above) and fry for a couple of minutes. I had originally thought these yellow discs were lentils but Wikipedia says otherwise. Wikipedia knows best.

When it's all looking good add about a litre of water and three cardamom pods partly prised open. These things need more cooking than you might think - they are pappy at twenty minutes, edible at thirty but really come into their own nearer fifty.

try with an islet of melting ghee on top

Very nice. Once the tongue-burning period well known to any glutton unable to resist freshly cooked food had passed the flavours opened up nicely. An earthy and honest base of flavour from the peas and the onion (you shouldn't be able to feel much onion in your mouth, it's all about them dissolving) with a satisfying underlying heat and flashes of something a bit more racy when you approach cardamom wake. Don't be tempted to put too much fat in this dish: it's appeal lies in its restrained and earthy tastes.

So, any winning dal recipes out there?


  1. Very interesting post! I always thought it was lentils in dhal, too.

  2. I love dahl, but have never quite found the perfect one. So please let me know when you've found it. I like it with lentils or split peas - both very different though.

  3. Thanks for the comments chaps. Dal seems to be the preparation of pulses rather then lentils specifically, so it can cover chickpeas and other things. I have tried it with chickpeas which is the next write up!

  4. Let me know when ur half-way to perfection and will invite self round for tasting ;-)

  5. on the spelling front, could you alter your a and h inclusion depending on the regional spicing ?