When I began learning cooking from my mother, I had a desire to take some of the comfort food I had as a child and make it my own. Growing up in an Indian-vegetarian household, I remember our pantry lined with bins full of all sorts of lentils--moong, masoor, chana, urid--so the lentil, or dal, was an obvious choice for my own kitchen. The base of this recipe is my mother's, but over the past few years, I have since expanded and modified it to suit my own taste. I generally use split moong dal, which looks like split peas. You can use other lentils, but I would not recommend thin ones, as they become mushy very quickly. Salt is key--when you cook with so many spices, you need enough salt to be able to taste the spices, otherwise you only smell them. Some chilies are milder than others, so you can always add more if you'd like it hotter. If you are disappointed in the chili hotness, you can add red chili powder too (but this should be done while the lentils are still cooking, not towards the end). You can also substitute the spinach with another vegetable--okra, zucchini, other leafy green--or use a bunch of fresh spinach instead of frozen. Adding butter at the end will soften any taste that is too strong. I find this dal the simplest and most comforting food that I make, and I hope you will be able to say the same for yourself. —kanvasudevan
Canola Oil, divided
Medium Yellow Onion, chopped
Fresh Ginger Root, grated
Serrano or Green Chili
Split Moong Dal
Fresh Garlic, chopped
Juice from 1/2 Fresh Lime
Chopped Spinach (thawed box/bag of frozen spinach)
Heat frying pan on medium heat. Add 3 tbs oil. Once heated add onion and sauté 1 min.
Add ginger, green chili and 1 tsp salt and sauté 1 min.
Add cumin, coriander, fenugreek and sauté a few min. Add remaining oil and sauté until onions become translucent, ensuring spices do not burn. Set aside.
In a large soup pot heat water on high heat. Once boiling, add moong dal, garlic, turmeric and 1 tsp salt. Turn heat to low, cover pot with lid, leaving slightly uncovered. Stir occasionally. Cook lentils halfway, about 15 min.
Add onion and spice mixture and 1/2 tsp salt and continue cooking 10 min. Stir occasionally.
Add lime juice and spinach to pot and stir. Cook another few min., or until spinach heats through.
Taste dal for softness. Dal should be soft but still retain its general shape. If more cooking needed and all the water has been soaked up, add 1/4 cup water. Taste for salt as well. You can always add more.
Once dal is cooked add butter. Let butter melt into dal.
Turn off heat and sprinkle cilantro on top.
All done! Eat with jasmine or basmati rice and/or your favorite warm flat bread (roti/chapati/paratha/naan/pita/tortilla) and yogurt on side.