Daily dal

When it comes to mothers and their cooking, there are some people who would happily throw a punch to defend their mother’s recipes. Italy is made up of a whole nation who fiercely defend their mothers meatballs, although, considering the Italians are yet to instigate a full scale Italian meatball contest to find out whose mother actually has the best meatballs, I’m certain that this act, is a tiny act of affection the Italians award their mothers.

I’m not about to throw any punches, but I would like to, in honour of my brilliant mother, share one of my most treasured recipes of hers, her masoor dal, with you.

It is one which I would put in the time capsule just in case something happened, it’s also one which I think (unlike others dals I have tasted) has a great texture: excellent bite and a warm rich taste which comes from the holy trinity of ginger, chilli and tomatoes.



Serves 4

  • 225g red lentils
  • 2 tablespoons rapeseed oil
  • optional: 12 peppercorns
  • optional: 4 cloves
  • 1 white onion, thinly sliced
  • 4 cloves of garlic, crushed
  • 6cm piece of ginger, peeled and finely grated
  • ½ teaspoon chilli powder
  • ½ teaspoon ground coriander
  • ½ teaspoon ground turmeric
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 300g tinned plum tomatoes

In a sieve, rinse the lentils until the water runs clear, then drain and put into a deep, lidded saucepan. Add 600ml of cold water, bring to the boil over a medium to high heat, then cover with the lid and simmer gently for 10 to15 minutes without stirring, until thoroughly cooked. Like pasta, if the lentils are not done, they’ll have a raw, chalky bite to them. You want them tender all the way through.

Meanwhile, put the oil into another deep, lidded saucepan on a medium heat. When it’s hot, add the peppercorns and cloves if you’re using them. Stir-fry for around a minute, or until you can smell them, then add the onion. Cook for 8 to 10 minutes, until they are golden. Don’t be tempted to skimp on time when you cook onions (or garlic, or ginger), as this is where all the flavour is.

When the onions are done, add the garlic and ginger and stir-fry for a further 4 minutes before adding the chilli powder, coriander, turmeric and salt. Stir well, then add the tinned tomatoes. If they’re whole, pour them out with one hand and crush them with your other hand to break them up before they hit the pan. Cover, turn the heat down and simmer for around 8 minutes.

The tomatoes should be looking darker and more paste-like now, with little tomato juice running from them. Add the lentils using a straining spoon, then pour in any remaining water they were boiling in, a little at a time, until you get a good consistency. A good consistency for me is a fairly thick dal, thick enough to be eaten from a plate with bread, but you may prefer yours to be more soupy.

Finally, cover with the pan with the lid again and cook on a low heat for a further 10 minutes.

Taste and make any adjustments to the salt, chilli or consistency as you see fit, and serve with chapattis, home-made yoghurt and some garlic pickle or fire-bellied garlic and chilli chutney. Remember to watch out for the cloves and peppercorns.