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Red Lentils Tarka (Masoor Dal)
Red lentils are quick cooking and they break down, making them ideal for purees, soups or stews where they don't need to hold their shape. Tarka is a method of tempering, or blooming, spices in hot oil to add a wonderful depth of flavor to a finished dish. Dal can refer to both lentils themselves and the many, many variations of stewed lentils from around India. Some have coconut milk, ginger, dried hot chiles, mustard seeds, curry leaves, garlic, ginger, etc. With the exception of the lentils, salt, water, oil, and maybe a few spices like turmeric and cumin, everything else is optional or variable. I opted to include onions and tomatoes since we have them this week, although this particular recipe doesn't originally call for them. A quick google search will pull up many variations, so feel free to experiment. Dal is commonly served with rice or flatbread, and sometimes with a simple meat or vegetable dish. This recipe is based on Madhur Jaffrey's from her book, Quick and Easy Indian Cooking. Serves 6.
What you'll need
1 1/2 C split red lentils
5 C water
1/4 C vegetable oil or ghee
generous pinch of ground asafetida (I've found this in the bulk section at the Bozeman Co-op)
1 1/4 - 1 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1 tsp whole cumin seeds
1/2 teaspoon ground turmeric
1 small yellow onion, diced small
1 1/2 - 2 C fresh tomatoes, diced, or a 15 oz can diced tomatoes
Rinse the lentils well in a fine-mesh strainer under cool, running water, removing any pebbles, debris or discolored lentils. Drain and add them to a saucepan with 5 C water and the turmeric. Bring to a simmer over medium-high heat, being careful not to let them boil over. Reduce the heat to maintain a gentle simmer, and leave the lid slightly ajar. Stir a few times while cooking. Simmer until the lentils are very tender, about 30 minutes, then mix in the salt and leave covered on low heat while you finish the dish.
While the lentils are simmering, cook or prepare any additions, like the onion and tomato. Heat 2 Tbs oil or ghee in a skillet over medium or medium-high heat. Add the onion and cook until browned, about 8 minutes. Add the tomatoes along with their juices, mix well, reduce the heat to low, and keep warm until the lentils finish cooking. When finished, add the tomato mixture into the lentil pot and stir well to combine. You can mash the lentils a bit as you stir. Cover the pot again and keep on low heat.
Heat the remaining 2 Tbs oil or ghee in a small saucepan or skillet over medium-high heat. When the oil is hot, add the asafetida, then a second later, add the cumin seeds and let sizzle for just a few seconds. Pour the oil and spices into the lentil pot and cover again to trap the aromas until you're ready to dig in.