This Needs to be Dal-ed Up

first draft dal ingredients

Granola bars. Chex mix. Water bottles. Single portion packets of Motrin. Tissues. Mini bottles of Jack and Bacardi. That was the contents of my friends’ Katie and Joe’s wedding gift bag. My gift bag, however, included two additional items: black mustard seeds and udad dal split matpe beans.

Just a few weeks ago Katie drove out to the ‘burbs of Virginia or Maryland, I forget which one, and hit up an Indian grocery. She picked up extra goodies for me but in the craziness that is the weeks before a wedding we weren’t able to meet up. Brilliantly, she decided to drop it my gift bag. (Future brides take note!)

For a dinner my friend Raya hosted I decided to try out my newly received lentils.

Now I don’t usually pay for iPhone apps, but Mark Bittman’s How to Cook Everything is a gem. I googled around for dal recipes, even using its blog filter search, but I couldn’t find anything I wanted to try. I turned to Bittman. I trust him. And his laid-back, authoritative tone makes for good reading. Plus the app doesn’t require wireless to work.

Anyway, I used his “Simplest Dal” recipe as a guide.

And while I’m encouraged to play around with dal again, I haven’t mastered how to up the flavor. It didn’t have a great zing to it and at times tasted of tannins. Here’s what I did but please tell me what I should have done.

First Draft Dal


In a large pot I threw in 2 cups of udad dal split matpe beans, that have been washed and “picked through” or whatever that means, 2 tablespoons of minced ginger, 2 tablespoons of black mustard seeds, 2 tablespoons of methi seeds, 1 tablespoon of turmeric, 1 tablespoon of garlic powder, 1.5 tablespoons of cumin, 1 tablespoon of curry powder and 3 chillies. I covered all of that with water, I think maybe 6 cups so that there is an inch of water over everything. Then I brought it to a boil and then lowered the heat, with the pot partially covered for almost 30 minutes, stirring occasionally. I tasted it. Bland. So I salted it, peppered it, plus added more water so as Bittman said, it’d be “saucy but not soupy.” Before serving I dumped in almost 2 tablespoons of butter. I was pleased with the consistency, but was not in love with the flavor. It was just kinda blah.

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  • GC/DC August 16, 2010  

    Curry Powder is cheating, almost like using garlic powder, you should have used combo of spices instead. Or at least curry powder from India, not the crappy bland McCormick version…

    And maybe some Ghee would have helped.

    Just my two cents. 🙂

  • gansie August 16, 2010  


    i adore your 2 cents!

    well, to be fair, i did use garlic powder so clearly this whole thing was a cheat. check out this combo i used for a DIY garam masala – would that have worked?

  • gansie August 16, 2010  

    and come on, you weren’t impressed with my methi seed inclusion?

  • Chris August 16, 2010  

    You should cook your dal plain and then add the flavorings towards the end. Here’s a kick-ass recipe that I’ve been using lately. Watch out for that asofeteida, your house will stink to glorious high-heaven.

  • scott August 17, 2010  

    Curry powder isn’t cheating. It’s a great shortcut and is essentially a blend of spices that go into a basic curry recipe though it has nothing to do with curry leaves. Garlic powder on the other hand doesn’t resemble garlic at all. Try a touch of curry powder in your next batch of deviled eggs Gans.

    As for the Dal. Look for recipes that make use of tempering oils. If you’d cooked the dal rather plain, and then cooked the spices you’d listed in 1/4 of oil with some onions, tomatoes and chilies the flavors would have become much more developed. You then stir the oily mixture into the cooked dal. Also try tossing in a shit ton of minced fresh cilantro right before serving, and a twist of lemon or lime juice.

  • scott August 17, 2010  

    yeah that salon rec is right on. And I’ll second the asofeteida smell. Not worth it.

  • Chris August 17, 2010  


  • EvoDiva August 25, 2010  

    The one thing that I can suggest is that the black mustard seeds should be sauteed first – they (and other spices) should start crackling and popping in the ghee or olive oil before adding other stuff. I still haven’t mastered the art of Indian cooking though! My veggie boss knows what she’s talking about though…I’ll try to recruit…

  • VeggieBoss August 26, 2010  

    Also, the asafetida (AKA hing) needs to be slightly sauteed in oil. The smell is incredibly pronounced while it is raw. As soon as it cooks it mellows into something that provides a wealth of depth. I actually keep my hing locked up in a small jar. As some others have suggested to really bring out the taste of these ingredients the flavors need to be developed by cooking the spices in oil before combining with dal. Indeed, this is common practice in Indian cooking. The dal is cooked pretty plain, maybe salt and other very limited spices. It is then topped with a blend of spices that have been previously cooked in oil.

    I think that for dal, curry powder is not necessarily “cheating” but is decidedly less yummy than a good quality garam masala. The only thing that I feel truly benefits from curry powder is Singapore Noodles (go figure). Curry powder is an English invention that will never be able to replicate the sweet heat of a good garam masala.

  • EvoDiva August 27, 2010  

    Next in Gansie’s goodie bag: garam masala from the Indian grocery store (although Gansie, let’s make a play date!). I think veggie boss should teach us more about Indian cooking in a couple of blog posts. I think it would go over incredibly well with this audience. Just sayin’….

  • Borracho August 27, 2010  

    Hmm does that mean that there is another wedding or just that you are putting together culinary goodie bags EvoDiva? If it’s the latter, I want in!

  • Pingback: Feed Us Back: kale chips, tomatoes and asafetida January 18, 2011  
  • Pradnya July 25, 2011  

    Hi.. You might want to first try with a simpler dal I.e toor dal. First pressure cook it with plenty of water till it becomes soft. Then in another vessel boil it with salt and slit green chillies(try with one first) and curry leaves(washed and uncut). Once boiled switch off gas. In another small pan take 1-2 tbsp oil and when hot add mustard seeds let it splutter then add 1-2 red dried chillies or curry powder, curry leaves and asafetida or hing. Switch off and add this mixture to dal and close the vessel with lid to maintain the aroma. Let me know how it tastes:)

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