This is my third dhal recipe, but it is fundamentally different from the other two in that it wasn’t conceived as a side-dish, though it may act as such. What this means is that while the flavour of the other two was delicious, it was exceedingly simple; whereas the taste of this dhal will excite and ignite your palette, though not in a literal sense. Indeed, the combination of black onion seeds, which are surprisingly fragrant, and garam masala, a spice mix known for its dark perfume and body, make this an enticing prospect for even the more snobbish taste buds in existence.
Black onion seeds, or kalonji, are an ingredient only rarely used in mainstream cooking. I think the only area in which they have become prevalent in the west is in mango chutney and even then the leading brand doesn’t contain them. In my opinion, these little black seeds are one of the most flavoursome and pleasing spices out there and if you ever come across them, which you may not in Britain, they are more than worth £1 of your hard earned money. If you want to find a packet of these your best bet is to either order them online, or to pop down your local Asian supermarket if you have one. If you do invest, it’ll be all you can do to stop yourself from putting a teaspoon of them in just about every Indian dish you prepare.
The great thing about dhal is that they are great vehicles for flavour, particularly those that make use of the rather innocuous red lentil. As such, one can feel free to stamp one’s own brand of culinary authority over them. Unfortunately, such a statement rather undermines the need for a recipe, so to avoid being labelled a hypocrite it may be better to describe this as a suggestion of preparation – though it is an awfully delicious one. For instance, if you have been unable to find black onion seeds fear not, for you can feel free to replace it with whatever spices your being desires. This adaptability is what makes the red lentil dhal one of my favourite things to eat.
Fragrant Red Lentil Dhal
• 250g red lentils
• 1 onion
• 2 cloves of garlic
• A good slosh of oil
• 1 tsp garam masala
• 1 tsp black onion seeds
• 1 tsp chilli flakes
• Chopped coriander to serve
1. As with any red lentil dhal you’ll need to rinse and then boil the lentils in enough water to cover them by about 1cm. In a separate frying pan begin to cook the onion in oil. After add the spices and garlic and leave to cook until the onions have started to turn crisp and golden.
2. Once the lentils have softened start beating them with a wooden spoon until you end up with a mixture that roughly resembles an Indian porridge. As long as it isn’t too watery, tip it into the onion mixture and mix thoroughly. Serve with a little chopped coriander and some flatbread.
Cost: Red lentils must be one of the cheapest forms of protein – one 500g bag can often be enough for 8-10 portions and should set one back no more than 70p! Luckily, they convey flavour very well. As such, this dhal is a snip (Americanism) at a mere 60p.