A simple Yellow Dal (Lentils) Recipe

Monday, July 08, 2013

I love Hindi films. Surprising, eh?

I grew up as a kid singing Chal, Chal Mere Saathi oh Mere Haathi from the film Haathi Mere Saathi (Elephant my friend).

In those days, when you like a movie, you watch it many times. You pay 60 cents for the ticket and you laugh and cry again.

In recent years, I discovered The Three Idiots. My wife was sceptical about watching a Hindi film but she fell for the Idiot very quickly. It must be around 5-6 screenings now and each time, we laugh  and cry again. It is an entertaining and powerful movie, poking fun at our education systems. Rated highly in Rotten Tomatoes...

Wait. Tomatoes, hmm. This is a food blog. I am bordering on writing a post  to review these films.

Check again. Yes, it is.

Okay, change gear. Let's go again.

I love Indian food. Not surprising, eh?

I grew up eating Roti Chanai (that is how we call it in Malaysia). I love it. Cheap and incomparable, it was a meal whenever I find a spare 10 cents coin in my pocket. That's right, in those days 10 cents was all I had for my daily pocket money. It was Roti Chanai and not much else.

And the "kuah" always fascinated me. I love the watery yellow dal (lentils), especially with bits of mutton fat chunks, carrots and onions swimming in it. I lapped up everything. After all, I paid a full 10 cents for a fluffy roti and this plate of goodness.

Sigh, the sense of wonder I had as a little boy for some of the simplest of foods. That stapled taste memory never left me. I have loved dhal ever since.

I don't know why it has taken me so long. There is always an inertia when it comes to cooking something unfamiliar. And for me dhal always had a sense of mystique around it.

I did remember though praising an Indian friend for making  a nice bowl of dhal. She was embarrassed as "it was a very easy dish to make."

I finally made it recently and I am glad to echo that it is indeed so.

The thing is dal is common in Indian households. A cheap and ready source of protein for vegetarians, there are as many versions of dhal as there are households. Every homecook does it differently.

I am not sure you need a fixed recipe for this but I will go through the basic steps of cooking this.

I use the yellow split mung beans which is widely available. You can also use this to make the Chinese dessert Tau Suan.

100g of this will go a long way as the beans will expand as you cook. For this lentil, you do not need to soak it beforehand and it cooks fast.

There are a few ways of cooking this.

This is another version using Malabar dhal with potatoes and tomatoes added
Cooking the lentils separately. This lentils can also be used for the Chinese desert "Tau Suan."
The method I use is to first cook the lentils in water, salt and turmeric powder till you get the desired texture.

Separately, you prepare the seasonings and other ingredients. Toast about a teaspoon of cumin seeds in a hot pan. Then I add in some ghee (or veg oil). Then some chopped garlic and sliced ginger. Next will be sliced large red onions, dried chillies, some sliced tomatoes and chopped coriander stems. This is to sweat the ingredients and bring out the flavours.

Next mix them all into the dal. Adjust the taste with some salt. Just simmer the dal a bit more till you get the desired texture. The purpose of cooking the ingredients separately is to control the texture. i.e. you don't want the onions to disintegrate into the stew.

That's it. All in all, it took me about 40 minutes to cook about 250g of the lentils it and it will be less if you use smaller potions. When serving, garnish with coriander leaves.

There are many ways to make dal. It is really up to you - more oil, more water. Add in other ingredients and spices. Use very hot or spicy chillies if you wish. Try out other type of lentils.

I happen to have a small bottle of asafoetida, which I bought a while ago out of curiosity when I last visited an Indian grocery shop. From the Net - "Asafoetida is a dried, resinous gum collected from three species of the Ferula (Giant Fennel) plant which is then ground to a fine powder. It has a very strong, pungent smell and the flavour mellows as it is fried in oil. When cooked it has a truffle-like flavour and a roasted garlic aroma."

Happily, it goes well with dhal and so, I added just a pinch of it.

Mung Bean dhal
Dhal goes very well with Basmati rice of course and yes, papadum! My favourite cracker, by far. The brand carried by NTUC is good, as with the Basmatic rice (get the Temasik Gold brand, about $21 for 5 kg).

In a recent family meal, I made curry lamb, fried chicken and cucumber/tomato raita to go with the meal. The dinner was sumptuous alright and can be on the heavy side. We will enjoy it once in a while.

I hope you find this post helpful. It is not difficult to try cooking some Indian dishes in your home.

(I have since been improving on the various versions of dhal as I get to understand this dish more. I hope to blog more on this.) 

A complete Indian meal platter. Love this Basmati Rice from NTUC (Temasik Gold brand)
Curry Lamb - want the recipe? I can't exactly remember now!

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  1. Hi Terry! I'm not so into Indian movies but I'm definitely a big fan of Indian cuisine! Pls dig out the lamb curry recipe, pleeease! :D

  2. Ok, digging out the lamb curry recipe!

  3. Thanks Terry! Looking forward to reading the curry recipe post!

  4. you should try India Gate Basmati Rice from Mustafa - it's around the same price as your Temasik Gold but it's deliciously fluffy! when i served it people thoughtit was bee hoon the grains were so long!

  5. Hi Terry , love the way you cook . The funny thing about Dhal is that it's a rich and poor man's food , it cheap it keeps you full . But above all you can eat with rice ,bread thosai etc. Thank you for the many wonderful recipes. And you have put them together ( rice ,chicken cucumber like a real Indian .