Saturday, October 29, 2011

Basic Daal

This 'daal,' called lentils and also lentil soup in Hindi, is the most basic and nutritious meal that I can whip up in a flash.

At its simplest, it's lentils, water, ginger and turmeric. After that point, you can add anything to suit your taste:

Play around with using a combination of lentils. For an ultra-quick version, I use red lentils or split yellow moong lentils which don't need to be soaked (but of course, even soaking for just 30 minutes helps it cooks faster!). For bigger lentils like chana daal (split yellow peas) it's a good idea to soak them 8 - 24 hours,  as soaking helps it cook faster, breaks down bio-active compounds that cause gas, which makes the nutrients more absorbable and aids with digestion. Daals in India are made with urad lentils, split urad lentils, moong lentils, toor lentils, and the list goes on and on! Check out an Indian store and experiment with different lentils! Remember: different foods provide different nutrients so eating variety is the best way to be healthy! 

While boiling the lentils, I always add ginger and turmeric. Ginger aids in digestion, has anti-inflammatory properties and adds a spicy, savory kick. Turmeric also has a range of health benefits (anti-cancerous!!) and gives the daal that sunny yellow color and adds a distinct subtle flavor. After the lentils are tender, traditionally at least two more spices, that are fried in oil, are added to the cooked lentils. It's usually cumin seeds (spiskummin in Swedish) or mustard seeds along with asafetida ('hing' in Hindi). Asafetida is considered a digestive and also an aphrodisiac. It has adds a flavor almost like onion but you need the TINEST pinch. Adding too much can overpower the whole daal so if you're using it, add a baby pinch. 

In our household, daal has to be sour, but that's completely optional if you're not into sour.  Tamarind, kokum, tomatoes, tomatillos, limes and lemons provide different sour notes. Kokum is a fruit from India that is dried, and like tamarind juice, boiled for at least 10 minutes in soups and stews to add a musky sour note. If you can't find kokum, you can use tamarind juice in its place. You can also skip all that and just squeeze in some lemon or lime juice before serving for a fresher sourness.

A simple daal is just lentils. You can add whatever extra vegetables you want, like tomatoes, carrots, onion, kale stems, etc.

Curry leaves are fried along with whole spices to bring out its distinct flavor. It's irreplaceable, there's nothing quite like it and it just adds amazing, authentic flavor to a daal. I buy it in fresh form from the Indian store, wash it, dry it and freeze it. That way it's always available when I'm making daal. I love to add fresh coriander leaves and stems just before serving for vibrant freshness.

Traditionally people eat daal with a side of basmati rice or chapati (flatbread made from semi-whole wheat flour). But sometimes I add equal amount of quinoa to the raw lentils and boil them together to make this dish extra-extra protein-rich and make it a one pot meal. 

My mom always adds extra tomatoes for me because she knows I love its sour and sweet notes in the daal. My grandmother used to make '3 daal' which is a combination of three different lentils boiled with tomatoes and it is just scrumptious in every way. 

On days that I'm making dinner just for myself, I make this simple daal because it's delicious, nutritious, extremely low in fat, and so quick and easy to prepare. In a pressure cooker, daal takes a total of 20 minutes. On the stove, a little longer. If using the stove method, it helps immensely if the rinsed lentils have been soaking for 1 - 24 hours so that they cook faster / absorb better / digest easier. 

My FAVORITE way to eat daal is to have a big bowl of it just by itself with a dollop of kimchi (or sauerkraut) and some sunflower or pumpkin seeds on top. The kimchi and sauerkraut add extra sourness and provide probiotics (healthy gut bacteria) which helps absorb the iron from the lentils and also aids in digestion. It's up to you what toppings you want to add and it can have as little or as much as you'd like! ENJOY!

Basic Daal
Serves 1 

50g / 1/2 dl  /  1/4 cup yellow split moong lentils
50g / 1/2 dl  /  1/4 cup toor daal/red lentils
OR just 100 g / 1 dl / 1/2 cup of either yellow split moong daal or red lentils
450g / 6 dl  / 4 cups water
1 tbs / msk  fresh ginger, chopped
1/2 tsp / tsk turmeric 

1 tbs / msk canola oil
1 tsp / tsk black mustard seeds
1/2 tsp / tsk cumin seeds
A baby-pinch hing or asafetida (optional) 
1 small green chili, chopped finely (optional)
1 tbs / msk curry leaves (optional)
10g / 2 tbs / msk kokum (optional) 
A tomato, chopped (optional)

Lime or lemon as a garnish
Fresh chopped coriander as a garnish
Kimchi or Sauerkraut
Sunflower or pumpkin seeds

1. In a bowl, combine the lentils and rinse as many times as needed until the water runs clear. 

2. Add the lentils, water, ginger and turmeric to a pressure cooker or a sauce pan with a lid. 

If using a pressure cooker: Once all the ingredients come to a boil, cover and turn the heat to its lowest. After one whistle, turn off heat and allow to rest until the lid is ready to be unlocked. 

If using a regular pot: Bring to a boil, cover and cook on medium heat until the lentils are extremely tender and disintegrating. You may need to add additional water and stir occasionally.

3. If using kokum, rinse and soak in about 1/2 cup of water while the lentils are cooking. 

4. After the lentils are cooked, begin with the tarka: In a separate sauce pan, heat oil on low heat and add the mustard seeds and cover with a lid. Be careful as the hot mustard seeds can splatter. Once the seeds start to pop, add the cumin seeds, hing, chilies and curry leaves and allow to sizzle until aromatic but not burnt. Take off the heat. 

5. Add the tarka to the lentils, along with salt, kokum (if using) and its soaking water, tomatoes and any other vegetables you'd like. Add additional water for a soupier consistency. Bring to a boil and then turn off the heat after the vegetables are cooked or after 5 minutes. 

6. When serving the daal, add fresh coriander and a squeeze of lime or lemon, or even kimchi or sauerkraut for an extra kick. 



  1. Do you know a good Indian food shop in Sthlm?

  2. There is Taj Mahal on Kammarkargatan 40, which is OK. Also, try these:
    Indian Food Center on Kungsholmsgatan 15
    Himalaya Livs on Valhallavägen 73

    If you don't find what you're looking for in any of these stores, you can always ask them, sometimes they take special orders.



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