India is my total happy place. If I could jump on a plane right now and go anywhere, it would be India – it is beautiful, colourful, fascinating and most of all delicious. (Also with Christmas looming I could really do with not being in this country for a bit). It is the only country in the world I have spent a significant amount of time in and not got bored of the cuisine. Curry for breakfast, lunch AND dinner? Yes. Please.
Rewind a few years and I was lucky enough to go to the opening week of a trendy new London eatery – Dishoom. A dear friend of mine is the brains behind the incredible menu, and invited us along. It blew us away. I can’t even begin to tell you how many times we have been back since, but if there were a loyalty card system I would be platinum by now. There are so many delicious treats on the menu it is unreal. I try and mix it up every time we go but there is one constant and that is the black dal. Black dal and if I am feeling really naught a side of cheesy naan. Washed down with chai, lots of chai.
I’ve cooked various versions of this recipe, however today I have finally settled on a worthy Dishoom substitute. I know the Dishoom dal is cooked for a whole day, so in comparison my 6 hour version is a quick cook meal! And it is totally delicious. This is what I would consider real healing food – in the cooking sense and the meal itself. It is wholesome, warming and meditative. For long lazy days at home and bowls of deliciousness.
Serves 8 – 10 (you can easily halve this recipe but for the time and effort it is definitely worth making a larger batch and then freezing any extra dal for a rainy day)
- 500g urad dal
- 50g butter
- 2 large onions, peeled and finely chopped
- 12 cloves of garlic, peeled and finely chopped
- A large thumb size piece of ginger, peeled and finely chopped
- 1 heaped teaspoon mild chilli powder
- 1 teaspoon ground cumin
- A heaped tablespoon of tomato puree
- A tin of good quality plum tomatoes
- Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
- 500ml organic whole milk
- Double cream or Greek yoghurt, to serve (optional)
Soak the urad dal in plenty of water the night before you want to cook it.
The next day place the soaked dal in a large saucepan and cover with plenty of fresh water. Bring to the boil and then simmer for 40 minutes until the dal is soft (scooping off any scum that comes to the surface). While the dal is cooking saute the veg. Melt the butter in a large non stick saucepan over a medium-low heat. Add the onion, garlic and ginger and soften for 10 – 15 minutes so it is cooked down and soft but not coloured: you want gorgeous sticky onions. Add the cumin and chilli powder to the pan and cook for a couple more minutes before adding the tomato puree. Cook for a few more minutes and then add the tinned tomatoes. Gently crush the tomatoes, breaking them down and bring to a simmer. Cook for 3 – 4 minutes and season generously.
When the dal is cooked, drain and add to the pan with the veg. Pour in the milk and top with enough water to just cover the dal. Bring the mixture to the boil, giving everything a good stir and then reduce the heat to low, so it is gently simmering away. This is where you need time. You could cook this for 1 – 2 hours and it would be ok. But don’t settle for that, you want crazy delicious dal and for that you need to cook it for at least 4 hours. 5 if you can. 6 would be amazing. You could keep going…
Leave the dal ticking away uncovered, giving it a stir every now and then. If it looks like it is getting too dry top it up with a bit more milk, or a bit more water, alternating the two. After a few hours you’ll notice it start to darken, this is great, let it get darker and thicker (try not to drown it in too much liquid) and keep stirring.
Check the seasoning, it is a vast amount of dal so don’t be surprised if it needs more salt and pepper. And serve with poppadoms, rice, naan, chutney, a swirl of cream or yoghurt, or however you fancy. I just like it straight up, it is that good.