My trip around Northern India was a mouth wateringly, sensational, food experience. From buying a cup of Chai on the street, to sampling four different dals for breakfast at the 5* Suryaa Hotel in New Delhi, I never had a bad meal.
The food in India was primarily vegetarian. In the fine hotels, we stayed in, more effort was made to provide meat dishes, such as chicken and water buffalo curries, but to be honest I rarely tried these and was more than happy with oodles of paneer and dal and okra in my vegetarian meals.
In a village in Rajasthan, we happened upon a mother and daughter cooking outside their house. They were making a yellow dal with rotis. It was unforgettably delicious. After some rough translation from our guide and some tweaking from myself (original recipe fed around 12 people and involved some fresh ingredients many people don’t have at home in the U.K.), here is my recipe:
My Rajasthan Village Chana Dal
Serves 4 as a main meal or 6-8 people as a side dish.
In my house, we eat is alone as a hearty vegetarian dish. OR as a side dish to a curry, or to westernise the dish, we often have it with smoked cod or haddock with a poached egg (almost like a twist on a kedgeree).
• 250g/9oz chana dal (yellow dried split peas) OR red lentils (not typical but have used them before and it works).
• 1 white onion.
• 3-4 garlic cloves.
• 2 tbsp ghee or vegetable oil. I often use coconut oil to add a different depth of flavour.
• 1 tin of chopped tomatoes (400g) or 3 fresh tomatoes, blended into paste.
• 1 tbsp tomato puree.
• 2 Kashmir chillies (large chillies are required as this dish should be medium not hot). Can also use dried chillies or chilli powder, to taste.
• 1 tbsp cumin seeds.
• 2 tsp dried ginger powder.
• 1 tsp garam masala.
• 1 tsp turmeric.
• 2 tsp ground coriander.
• salt and black pepper.
• Rinse the lentils thoroughly then place in boiling water, bring to the boil and simmer for 45-60 minutes, skimming off the scum at top of the pan when needed. Rinse again, drain and allow to cool. Set aside.
• Add oil to a large pan and add the cumin seeds.
• After around 1 minute add the onion and garlic, finely chopped to the pan and cook until the onion is soft.
• Add the tomatoes and tomato puree to the onions and cumin seeds. Reduce heat to a low simmer.
• In a separate bowl, prepare your ginger, coriander, garam masala, chillies, turmeric and salt and pepper and then sprinkle into the simmering pan.
• Stir well then continue to simmer on a low heat for around 15 minutes.
• Now add in the lentils to the pan, stirring well to coat them in the sauce. Once all mixed, add small amount (tbsp. at a time) of water, if needed and the continue to simmer on a low heat for a further 10-15 minutes.
• Garnish with a swirl of cream or ghee to serve.