let’s talk for a second about another one of my favorite dishes. I tend to spell it Daal but it’s also online and in print as Dal, Dahl and/or Dhal. We could spend a long time trying to figure out which is the correct spelling so I’m gonna go out on a limb and say use the one you like. I’d rather spend my time making and eating this incredible dish than argue about how to spell it. In the case of this recipe you could just call it organic (preferably) red lentil soup too if you’d like.
One more note: I always use organic ingredients because I believe that myself and the people I cook for deserve the best. Organic not only tastes better, but it also has way higher nutrient levels so I encourage you to splurge on yourself.
One last thing: different types of lentils (red, green, yellow etc) all cook differently, taste different and have different textures. For this recipe, I highly recommend using (organic) red lentils.
Daal is a lentil based dish that is claimed as a staple in places like the Mediterranean, Africa and India and has been around for a very long time. Again, it is a wonderful plant based protein source. I have never really been a soup person but when Alicia and I moved in to our new home awhile back we realized we were right across the street from a Mediterranean style restaurant. We checked it out online and saw that it was family owned and everybody seemed to rave about their (grandma’s) red lentil soup. Alicia loves soup and I was feeling adventurous so we went across the street and had some. I was instantly addicted to the stuff. It was amazing! We had that soup as much as possible for awhile but the restaurant turned out to be open very sparingly and was conveniently (for them) closed a lot of the time we were in the mood for that soup. One day I’d had enough and went online to start my search for Daal recipes.
Turns out there are quite a lot of different variations on the theme of Daal so I sifted through a few recipes and ended up combing two that I liked the sound of. After making it enough to adjust the spices to my/our liking I served some to a friend of mine from India. He disgustedly told me “this isn’t Indian Daal, it’s a “Mediterranean style” Daal then he proceeded to finish the bowl.
So we’ve established the fact that we are making a Mediterranean style Daal so let’s just take a look at the ingredients. While you obviously can vary ingredients drastically on this dish (One of my Indian friends makes this recipe regularly now except that he bumps up the amount of chili powder in it which is no surprise.) and virtually any kind of soup you make that’s based on lentils is Daal, this particular combination of type of Daal with the mixture of aromatics (onion, garlic & ginger) with spices is truly addictive. We eat this virtually every day now. The proportions I’m giving seem to make a lot but it keeps well, covered and refrigerated and really doesn’t last very long. I’ve introduced many friends to this recipe who immediately added it to their repertoire.
2 cups organic (recommended but not necessary) red lentils there are different types of lentils and they all will have slightly different cooking times, textures and flavor. I’ve chosen to use organic (if you can) red lentils because they have a refined taste and texture and blend beautifully with the combination of aromatics and spices.
8 cups veggie broth (again, organic is always better for flavor and nutritional content)
1/2 – 1/3 small white onion (finely minced)
8-12 cloves of garlic (finely minced)
fresh ginger root (finely minced)
1 teaspoon ground Cumin
1 teaspoon ground Coriander
1 teaspoon ground Turmeric
1/2 teaspoon ground Cardamom
1/2 teaspoon ground Cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground chili powder (adjust this to taste)
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons pure sesame oil this may not be available at standard “chain” supermarkets but you will thank yourself later for taking the time to find an Asian market in your area that carries it. You would want to do that anyway so if you haven’t found a good one now is the time to do it. You can cook things in any oil but everything in this recipe was chosen for its specific properties and even though I have made this dish (in a pinch and you can’t prove it) with olive oil, it just wasn’t the same *sigh* so do yourself a favor and get some pure sesame oil (again, check my website KungFuCook.com for my favorite brands)
The first thing you want to do is begin soaking your lentils. I soak my 2 cups separately because I find it’s easier for me to work with but you can easily soak them together and get the same result. You want to soak them for a couple reasons. One, they’ll take a lot longer to cook if you don’t and two, they won’t blend together with the spices and aromatics un-soaked. They should have a minimum of 2 hours soaking time but I’ve been able to get the ingredients to combine with only 40 minutes but I had to kind of force the issue at the end. I will mention how at that point in this recipe. I originally soaked these overnight but found that they quickly ferment if soaked for too long and as attractive as the idea of alcoholic Daal sounded, they just smelled a little too fruity to be appealing.
Nothing to worry about though because if you maintain the idea that cooking is an art and there is no reason to rush things you’re lentils will be ready when you need them.
So weather you’re soaking them in two separate bowls in one cup proportions or all together in one larger bowl, cover your lentils with a good inch or two of water, lightly cover them (mostly to protect from evil flies) and set aside.
On most cooking issues I’m pretty strict about ingredient amounts because that ensures your dishes will come out nicely every time but on the aromatics for this dish I kind of lean more toward the artistic side. I’ve included pictures on all the recipes to show generally what they should look like at any given stage but for this step of this recipe you will want to look at the difference in proportions between the onion, garlic and fresh ginger.
A couple notes on two of the aromatics here. The white onion is one of the more aromatic of onions and will probably have you in tears before you’re done mincing it. I normally don’t use white onions because of this quality but please give it a chance in this recipe. I promise it works well. The same can be said for the ginger. I have never really been a fan of ginger but once combined with the garlic and white onion and the three are sautéed together, it’s just a heavenly combination.
Ok, so now I’ve made the case for the particular choices and you’re ready to start mincing aromatics. I strive to mince these three ingredients finer and finer every time I make this dish…which is every two to three days.
Start with the 1/2 to 1/3 of the white onion. That’s the most accurate of the measurements in this group. Once the onion is very finely minced push it all into a pile on your cutting board that resembles the pile in my picture. Then mince the garlic the same way and push that into a pile next to the onion. Your pile of garlic should be about a third smaller than your pile of minced onion. Now begin slicing off thin slices of ginger from the fresh root. I also take the time here to cut off the skin from each slice so that I’m just using the meat of the root. The skin is much more bitter than the heart of the root and we are working with a delicate blend of spices and aromatics so I remove the acrid element of the skin. Then mince the meat of the ginger root as finely as your onion and garlic. Keep slicing ginger, removing the skin and mincing it till your pile is about a third smaller than your pile of garlic. At the end they should resemble the picture with each of the piles successively smaller than the one next to it.
Now move on to the spices. I love this part. It is one place where I want to compare it to the sand paintings Buddhist monks do. Not in the complexity or anything but in the fact that to me, once the spices are laid out in a circle they are always just a little different in the way that they fall but just look beautiful in a circle as in the pic. but once I’ve created my little artwork I whisk it away into a pot of hot broth and two to three days later I do it again.
So lay out your spices on one plate so when it comes time you can dump them into the pot all at once. Once you’ve done that check on your lentils. This is a perfect time to clean up whatever mess you’ve incurred at this stage of the game. There really is nothing nicer than finishing a dish and turning around to a clean kitchen. By the time you’ve cleaned up whatever has been dirtied your lentils should have expanded in their bowl of water. If it hasn’t been even close to 2 hours since you started soaking them you should maybe use this time to do some kung fu stance training or some chi kung practice or maybe even some punching/kicking drills.
Check my website KungFuCook.com for information on some of these exercises. I know it’s easy to get impatient but the definition of Kung Fu is excellence through time and effort and cooking can be treated the same way as I might have mentioned before and once we establish the kitchen as private time we should take advantage of every moment we have in there to better ourselves and bring ourselves to a more healthy state of being so use this time for a little training.
Once your lentils have properly soaked you need to rinse them. This is one of the reasons I soak mine it two separate one cup portions because my strainer barely holds one cup say nothing about two. Anyway, I use a wire strainer to rinse the lentils well at this stage then set them aside once more to let them drain. This only takes a few minutes so you are about ready to put this all together.
One of the things I learned from working in professional kitchens is that a big difference between home cooking and professional cooking is that many home cooks do not properly heat their pan/pot before adding oil or ingredients. It’s better in general to properly bring your pan/pot to heat before adding anything but this particular recipe is a great example of that since it all works better if it cooks fast once you start putting it together.
The real secret to why you should always heat your pan/pot before adding oil is simple. The oil should start cooking as soon as it hits the pan so that when the food is added it is instantly being cooked in hot oil rather than sitting in and absorbing not so hot oil. Any food you cook in a properly heated pan will end up tasting much better as it does not have time to soak up the oil.
Let’s talk about veggie broth for a minute before going on. I always use organic but I’ve used liquid that’s ready to just pour in, I’ve used little cubes that need to be boiled and dissolved into water and I’ve used a paste that is similar to the cubes in that it needs to be heated up first to dissolve in to the water. First off, the use of veggie broth in Daal makes it taste much more hearty and robust than if you just used water and I haven’t served this to one person yet who wanted to go back to using water once they’d tasted the difference. All of these different varieties of veggie broth (liquid, cube, paste) worked just great but the paste is/was the most cost effective. The cube is next in line and the liquid costs the most. Since my whole point is to make good, inexpensive food I settled on the paste.
Take the time to prepare your veggie broth in whatever version you’ve picked (if you went with the liquid you’re ready to go of course)
Now get a medium/large pot that has a relatively snug lid and set it on the stove. Turn up the heat to a strong medium-ish level and wait for the pot to heat up. You want to ultimately have it so hot that when you put the oil in it starts to smoke so turn the stove’s exhaust fan on low while we’re waiting for things to heat up.
Once you’re sure they pot is good and hot add the two tablespoons of sesame oil. If it doesn’t start smoking at least a little bit it is not hot enough so wait till that happens. Once it does, swirl the oil around the bottom of the pot so that it’s fully covered and add your aromatics. I tend to add onions, then garlic then ginger but it probably doesn’t matter as long as you get them all in there and start stirring them around with a wooden spoon.
Stir them often so they don’t burn and keep them as evenly spread across the bottom of the pot as you can. As soon as you start to see them caramelizing (they start browning and it’s pretty obvious if you’re playing with your food like you should be at this point) keep stirring and add the veggie broth while constantly stirring. Once the broth is added in you can stop stirring (for now).
Let that all settle a bit while you grab your spice artwork and toss it into the mix. Take just a couple minutes to make sure the spices mix in as evenly as possible. Cinnamon tends to want to clump but if you mash the little clumps against the side of the pot they’ll dissolve in quickly enough. It doesn’t have to be absolutely perfect but make sure it’s blended pretty well then gently dump in your lentils.
Stir them around just a bit to make sure the spices, aromatics and lentils are all mixed up then bring the mixture to a slow steady boil. It should look like a tar pit. Once it does this, put the lid on the pot, turn the heat down to half-way between the first and second mark (pretty low) and set a timer for twenty minutes.
Now you can finish cleaning up the rest of the mess made during this process easily while the timer is running. In most cases, twenty minutes is all the time you’ll need and your Daal will be ready for you to heat up some pita bread and dig in but occasionally (like if it wasn’t soaked long enough or if you didn’t stand long enough on one leg while preparing things) the lentils will still not be totally soft and the combination of ingredients won’t be infused. If this is the case, quickly put the lid back on the pot and turn the heat up just to the second mark and set the timer for five more minutes.
This extra five minutes at a higher boiling temperature usually finishes the job nicely but if the geometric pressure in your kitchen is funky that day and that doesn’t work just keep cooking for five minutes at a time till it’s done.
If you open the pot after twenty minutes and it seems a bit soupy but when stirred, it all looks soft and blended together heat up your pita bread and eat.
One last note: I toss pita breads in a baking pan and throw it in the oven. I set the oven to pre-heat to 375 and as soon as it reaches temp I turn it off. You can either take the pita breads out of the oven right then (they are gonna be uber hot) or you can leave them in there for five minutes or so after you turn it off and they will not only be hot but they’ll tend to go toward pita cracker/chip and be a bit more crispy. Either way, heat up some bread and dig in. I’ll be very surprised if you don’t add this recipe to your list of regularly eaten foods. Great taste, great protein source (each cup of cooked Daal has almost 16.5 grams of protein plus two essential amino acids).
The first time through that recipe it may sound a little daunting but it’s a lot easier than it sounds and you’ll find yourself making it without needing the book really soon. It’s amazingly good and good for you at the same time. How could you lose?