I never liked daal (a thick stew prepared from dried peas and/or lentils that is a staple in many Indian diets) until I spent a summer in South India, where I piled hot, creamy daal onto beds of warm rice and scooped up any leftovers with flaky paratha. It was the ultimate comfort food and ever since, I've scoured every Indian restaurant to satisfy my daal craving. This recipe isn't as rich or buttery as the hotel-style dishes in Indian restaurants, but it's still utterly satisfying, it comes together quickly, and it's completely customizable in terms of heat level and the type of dried peas you use. If you want a creamier daal, add more butter (always a good idea) and let it simmer longer.
This recipe is an adaptation and combination of recipes from Madhur Jaffrey, Smitten Kitchen, and the Guardian. —Sarah Jampel
4 to 6
(400 g) dried yellow, orange, or green split peas (or a combination)
Soak the lentils in cold water for 1 hour. Rinse in cold water until the water runs clear, then place in a large saucepan and cover with 3 cups of water. Add garlic, ginger, tumeric, tomato, and the chopped chilies.
Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat and simmer the peas, covered with the lid sligtly open, for 45 minutes to an hour, stirring periodically and checking for softness. Pick out the tomato skins and whisk to emulsify. Add the 2 whole chilies and then keep warm while you make the spice and oil mixture (tadka).
Heat the canola oil over high heat. When it is super hot, add the cumin seeds. Cover the pan with a lid or a splatter guard while the seeds sputter. Once they've quieted down (10 to 15 seconds), add the onion and shallots and sauté over medium heat.
After 3 minutes, add the garlic and sauté until the onion is brown, another 2 minutes. Add the coriander and the cayenne, then pour the mixture over the daal and mix.
Add the butter, the cilantro, and the salt. Simmer for another 5 minutes.