While lentils are a beloved pantry essential around the world, they are cooked with unmatched culinary skill in India. Dal is a staple dish in most Indian homes, one that cuts across all social and economic groupings. In Northern India, there is a deep love for urad lentils, those hard back bullets that are white when skinned. Recipes vary from deeply spiced and complex, like Dal Makhani, to gentle, subtle and glorious, like Urad Tamatar, and Amristari Dal.
What all (or most) of them have in common is an enrichment with butter and/or cream. Urad lentils are particularly comfortable with surprising amounts of this dairy fat, so there is a need to get over any qualms – just dive in and add. After all, you are not eating it every day, right? This is a restaurant style dish (ie lots of butter and cream), but if you do want to minimise the quantities, you can get by with adding about 1/2 or 1/3 of the amount. In homes similar dishes are made for breakfast, particularly in the countryside and probably with smaller amounts of butter and cream.
The recipe is one of the gentle, subtle, earthy urad dishes. You will adore it. I have added a chilli-cumin finishing oil which is gorgeous, but optional.
Buttery Dal with Urad, Garlic and Tomatoes
200g split urad dal, unhulled or a mix of hulled and unhulled, soaked for at least 1 hour, or overnight
100g pureed tomatoes (passata can be used)
100g butter (or use less, to taste)
1.5 tspn ginger-garlic paste
0.5 tspn chilli powder, or to taste
salt, to taste
100ml cream (or use less, to taste)
finishing oil (optional)
1 tspn kashmiri chilli powder
1 tspn cumin seeds
2 tspn ghee
Drain the dal, rinse, and place in a large saucepan with 1.5l of water. Simmer for 1.5 – 2 hours until tender.
Add the tomato puree, half of the butter, the ginger-garlic paste, salt to taste and the chilli powder. Simmer for 15 minutes until the dal thickens a little.
Stir through the cream and the remaining butter. Taste and adjust the seasoning if necessary.
Place the dal in a serving dish.
To make the finishing oil, if using, heat the ghee in a tadka pan or small pan, and add the cumin seeds. When they are golden and crackling, remove it from the heat. After 20 seconds or so, add the chilli powder, and keep stirring until the oil is a deep red colour. Drizzle the oil and the seeds over the dal.
You can garnish the dal with coriander leaves.
Very good served with Pulkas.