Dal is a Hindi word that refers to an Indian dish made with dry lentils, or legumes. It is sometimes spelt as Dhal or Daal. In India, Dal is a staple and consumed almost daily by most households in India. Dal is not consumed on its own in India, rather it’s eaten with rice or flat bread called roti or chapati, combined with different chutneys, pickles and curd (yogurt). Combining Dal with other whole grains (rice/wheat -in the form of roti) nuts and seeds (in the form of chutneys), and curd, creates a complete vegetarian meal providing protein, fat and carbohydrates.
There are so many different ways to make Dal and each region has their own version. In fact, each household will prepare Dal based on the region they come from and perhaps from a recipe that has been made for generations in their household. For example, in the south of India a dish called Sambhar, made mainly of lentils, is a favourite way to eat Dal by most south Indians. In the North of India, Dal Makhani and Dal Tadka are most commonly eaten and loved. Ask any Indian and they will tell you what Dal means to them. There is nothing more comforting and irreplaceable that a plate of home-cooked dal and chawal (rice).
I distinctly remember the sound of a pressure cooker releasing steam when Dal was being prepared for the afternoon meal in my family home, in the south of India. In fact, that sound is SO comforting to my ears, till this day. I have very fond memories of being on my bicycle, rushing off somewhere, and hearing the whistles of pressure cookers releasing steam across my neighbourhood during mid-morning. This alone will tell you how important Dal as a dish is to the Indian sub-continent.
Maa Ki Dal is a north Indian speciality dal. This, is my way of making this north Indian black dal, to suit my family. When my children were little, they hated bits of pieces of ginger, garlic and tomatoes in their dal. If they got a small piece in their mouth, they made a fuss to eat their dal, no matter which way I cooked it. I then started using a Vitamix blender to blend the garlic, ginger, onions and tomatoes, so that it wouldn’t be detected by my kids taste buds! It worked and they never complained ever again!
And, I also discovered it’s much faster to prep my ingredients when using a blender vs chopping by hand, plus I’m able to get a nice consistency to create a masala (a mixture of spices with onion, garlic, ginger, tomatoes) with the help of blending.
You can eat dal with rice or with roti as we do in our household. Sometimes if I have left overs, I will have a bowl of dal as soup for lunch. If it’s too thick, I add a bit of water when I’m re-heating. No matter which way you eat Dal, it is delicious and comforting and always reminds me of home.
Watch this short 2 minute video below to see how I make Dal. It really is quite simple and easy to make. I like to soak my black lentils the night before, so it’s ready to be cooked the next day. All I do is, add a cup of lentils, cover it with water and allow it to sit on the counter top, next morning I strain and rinse and soak it again in water, till I’m ready to cook it for lunch or dinner.
If you don’t soak your lentils (epically when making black dal) it will take much longer to cook. Some lentils you don’t need to soak like red lentils (masoor dal). However, I soak every single lentil before cooking, mainly because that’s what my mom and grandma did and also because soaking lentils are known to help in enhancing mineral absorption by our bodies. When lentils are soaked an enzyme called phytase is activated, this helps in breaking down phytic acid and aids in binding iron, zinc and calcium, thereby making the absorption process easier and preventing bloating and gas.
Black Dal: Urad dal or kali dal or Maa ki dal
- 1 Vitamix Blender
- 1 Instant Pot
- 1 Pressure Cooker
- 1 cup black lentils (soaked for 8 hours) (you can find in any Indian store know as Urud lentils (whole black Urud, not washed and split Urud which is white).
- 1 small onions (red or white) (chop fine by hand or in a blender)
- 1 large tomato (chop very fine or blend)
- 1 tsp garlic (chop fine or blend with ginger)
- 1 tsp ginger (chop fine or blend with garlic)
- 1/2 tsp Kashmiri Chili powder
- 1/2 tsp garam masala powder
- 1/4 tsp turmeric powder
- 1/2 tsp salt (use as per your taste, you can always add more after cooking)
- 2 tbsp avocado oil (you can use butter or any oil of your choice)
- 1.5 cups water (add more if you like a thinner consistency)
- 3 green chilies (optional) (I like it spicy so I use fresh chillies, omit if you dont want it spicy)
- 1 bunch coriander leaves (for garnshing)
- 1/2 juice of lemon (for garnishing)
- Wash and rinse urad dal (whole black lentil) and soak in water overnight or for 8 hours at least.
- To an instant pot or a pressure cooker or a regular pot add oil, once hot, add garlic and ginger, saute for 2 to 3 minutes on medium heat, be careful not to burn. Add the onions and green chilies (if using fresh chillies) and saute for 5 to 7 minutes, being careful not to burn – by stiring now and again.Then add in all your spices and salt, mix really well and cook on low flame till you get a nice thick masala. Make sure to keep stiring until your garlic/ginger/onion and spices all come together to form a thick masala. This should take 8 minutes or so.Now add in the tomatoes, allowing it to cook for another 5 minutes or so, stiring well.Finally add in the soaked and rinsed black dal, water and mix well. Close the instant pot and cook on stew. (see notes below on how to cook in a pot or a pressure cooker)
- Once the automatic cooking time is complete your instant pot will turn off. Open the instant pot and top with fresh coriander leaves and freshly squeezed lemon juice. Taste, add salt if needed.
- At this point, you can add 1/4 cup of fresh cream or 1/4 cup of sour cream or 1/4 cup of thick yogurt (if you eat dairy), and mix throughly.
- Serve with rice and/or roti, chapati, naan or any flat bread.