Super easy to make and perfect for using up ingredients that can be found lurking in many cupboards and spice racks, a dhal is a comforting, satisfying yet very versatile dish, either as a centrepiece or as a base for other stars to duet with. As well as being easy to make, it freezes well and leftovers can be turned into a soup very easily. It is also rather good for you. What's not to like?
For the dhal:
- 2 tbsp vegetable oil (if you have a tin of ghee about then use that for authenticity's sake)
- 1 onion, finely chopped
- 250g red or yellow lentils (rinsed)
- 3 garlic cloves crushed/finely chopped, or 3 tsps of garlic puree from a jar
- 1 tsp ground turmeric
- 2 tsps ground cumin
- 1 tsp ginger powder, or a thumb-sized piece of fresh ginger grated/finely chopped
- 1 tsp garam masala
- 1 tbsp of curry powder or paste, whatever heat you prefer (use two tbsp if you haven't any garam masala)
- 1 400g tin chopped tomatoes or 4 large fresh tomatoes skinned and chopped
- ½ litre of vegetable or chicken stock
- Salt and pepper
- Fresh coriander
For the caramelised onions:
- 1 tbsp vegetable oil
- 3 large onions, finely sliced into half moons
- Pinch of salt
- ½ tsp caster sugar (optional)
- 1 tsp grated fresh ginger or tsp of ginger from a jar (optional)
For the chapati flatbread (makes 10):
- 140g wholemeal flour
- 140g plain flour, plus extra for dusting
- 1 tsp salt
- 2 tbsp vegetable or olive oil, plus extra for greasing
- 180ml hot water (you may need a little less or a little more)
To make the dhal
- It's a good idea to give your lentils a rinse under some cold running water for a few minutes, until the water runs clear. Leave them to drain.
- In a saucepan big enough to hold the lentils and a litre of water heat the vegetable oil over a gentle heat and fry the chopped onion until it is soft and just beginning to brown.
- Add the garam masala/curry powder or paste, cumin and turmeric to the onions, along with the garlic and ginger and stir for a couple of minutes.
- Tip the rinsed lentils into the saucepan and stir.
- Add the tomatoes and mix. Then add the chicken stock. Bring to the boil and then reduce the heat and simmer for about 35 minutes, giving it the occasional stir. The lentils should start break down and become mushy and you achieve a thick soupy texture. Keep an eye on it as it cooks and splash in a little water if it thickens more than you like, or the lentils take a little longer to break down.
- Once the lentils are soft and have broken down add the salt and pepper to your taste. At this point you can give half the mixture a blitz with a hand blender to smooth it out a little, but it's up to you.
- Leave the dhal mixture off the heat now while you get the caramelised onions ready.
To make the caramelised onions
- Heat the oil in a small saucepan over a low heat, add the onions and a pinch of salt. Stir occasionally, and once the onions are soft add the sugar, stir and raise the heat just a little to begin caramelising the onions.
- Cook the onion mixture until it starts to brown but not burn black. If it moves a little fast reduce the heat. After a while you will see the onions begin to brown evenly as the sugar takes effect in tandem with the natural sugars of the onions.
- Once the onions have turned a deep brown add the grated ginger if you are using it and stir to incorporate. Cook for a few more minutes then take off the heat.
To make the chapatis
- In a large bowl, add the salt to the flour and stir together so they are well mixed. Add the oil and enough of the water to make a soft, elastic dough. You can always add a little more water if needed.
- Lightly flour a board or your work surface and give yourself a good workout by kneading the dough for up to 10 minutes, until it is smooth. Divide the dough into 10 pieces and roll them into balls (if you want bigger breads make the portions bigger). Let them rest for a few minutes.
- Heat a frying pan or, even better, a cast iron skillet over a medium heat, and lightly oil it.
- Sprinkle a little more flour on your board or work surface and roll out the dough balls with a floured rolling pin until you have thin rounds (about 50p thickness).
- Once you can see the pan smoking, lay a circle of dough on it. Cook it until the underside has started to brown in spots, usually about 30 seconds. Flip it over and repeat on the other side. Once cooked, pop it onto a warmed plate and cover while you cook the other breads.
- To serve, warm the dhal through, then ladle it into warmed bowls and spoon some of the caramelised onions on top of each serving. Scatter with the coriander if using and serve with the warm chapatis.
Though there is spice in the dhal, this is not about heat (unless you want it to be). Your choice of hot or mild curry powder or paste will dictate that. As such this is a surprisingly wine-friendly dish, with the proteins of the lentils and the deeply savoury flavours making it good for fruit-filled red wines, while the spice will marry well with fruity, perhaps aromatic whites. Here are a few suggestions:
- Baccolo Appassimento Rosso Veneto
- The Society's Valpolicella Ripasso
- Glorioso Crianza, Rioja
- Pedroncelli Friends Red Sonoma County
- Viognier Grès du Trias, Coteaux de l'Ardèche, Vignerons Ardéchois
- The Society's Vin d'Alsace
- Saleta Moscatel-Sauvignon Blanc
- Three Terraces Marlborough Pinot Gris
- Gewurztraminer, Cave de Turckheim
- The Society's Rosé, Pays d'Oc
- Three Choirs Rosé