If you are interested in making lentil dhal, you might fit into one of two categories: either you are a culinary pro or a culinary explorer (clearly on your way to becoming a pro). Either way, welcome! You’ve found your way to easy guidelines for making a delicious stew that is abundant with creamy beans, without the digestive side effects.
The word dhal (also spelled dal or daal) is Sanskrit for “split.” Dhal is a deliciously thick stew prepared from pulses that, as the name implies, are usually split. This means, they’ve been stripped of their outer hull and split in half. A pulse is the seed contained within the pod of a legume. Like white rice, a pulse that is split has gone through a refining process. Because of this, a split pulse is not as nutrient-dense as its whole form. However, there are some great benefits that result from its processing. The refined version is gentler on the stomach and easier to digest. It is even used in culinary medicine to ease symptoms of diarrhea.
Split pulses will also save you time in the kitchen. Since they’re already hulled, you don’t have to soak them before cooking. They only take 20 to 30 minutes to break down into a creamy consistency, making dhal a great weeknight go-to.
Now, you can’t talk about dhal without talking about spices. Dhal is prepared a variety of ways, though typical spices include turmeric, cumin, coriander, and ground or fresh ginger. Dried red pepper flakes or cayenne pepper can be added to kick up the heat. The base of the dish is composed of aromatics, like onion and garlic. Water or chicken or vegetable stock brings all the flavors together and cooks the pulses. The finished dhal is then served over basmati rice or with chapattis—a thin Indian bread.
You can prepare dhal with a variety of pulses, but this challenge features red lentils, which are inexpensive and easy to find at most grocery stores.
1. Create a base. Place a pot over medium heat and coat bottom with oil. Add 1 chopped onion and 2 to 3 minced garlic cloves. Sauté to soften.
2. Build flavor. Add spices, such as 1 teaspoon cumin or coriander, ½ teaspoon ground ginger, and ½ teaspoon turmeric. Toss in a pinch or two of cayenne pepper or red pepper flakes if desired.
3. Pulse it up. Stir in 1 cup of red lentils and 4 cups of chicken or vegetable stock. Season with salt.
4. Cook down. Bring the broth to a boil. Stir, cover, and simmer for about 30 minutes.
5. Smooth out. Remove the lid and simmer for another 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. The lentils will get creamier as you stir.
6. Taste and garnish. Adjust seasonings to taste, and garnish with fresh parsley or cilantro.