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Chana Dal is an Indian slow-cooked lentil curry, naturally gluten-free and suitable for vegetarians and vegans.
Although this comforting dish is usually mild in spiciness, you can up the heat if you like it spicier simply by adding more chilli or going the other direction, eliminating the chillies for children to enjoy Chana Dal safely.
My recipe includes two different cooking methods, using the stove-top or high-pressure cooking. The latter is a popular cooking method in India for dals as it cuts the time significantly to cook the lentils.
WHAT IS CHANA DAL?
Dal (also spelt as dhal, dall, daal or dahl) is the generic name for lentils in India, which are used to prepare a slow-cooked, vegetarian, creamy lentil curry combined with tempered spices known as Tarka in Hindi.
Chana dal lentils are sold mainly at Indian or Asian supermarkets, however yellow split peas or Toor Dhal (aka split pigeon peas) can be substituted. As you can see in the photo below, they look very similar in appearance and taste slightly sweeter and “meatier” than other lentils.
WHAT IS TARKA?
Tarka is an infusion of hot oil or ghee with spices that are added to dal and other Indian dishes either at the beginning or end of cooking time to give distinct flavours and aromas.
WHAT IS GARAM MASALA?
In Hindi, Garam means hot and Masala is a term used to refer to any sort of spice mix. It is said to have originated in Northern India where it was used during the cold winters for its warming properties. It is also used in traditional Ayurvedic medicine, as it is known to warm the body and increase the metabolism.
If you are new to Indian cookery, garam masala is an important spice blend to have handy on your spice shelf. It is a combination of ground roasted spices that has a mix of sweet, hot and savoury flavour and aromatic notes. Many Indian dishes require garam masala as a finishing touch for an authentic flavour.
If you prefer a darker and richer dal, substitute the fresh tomatoes with tinned pureed tomatoes.
Chana Dal (Slow-Cooked Lentil Curry)
- Instant Pot or High-Pressure Cooker
- Small food processor
- 230 g chana dal or yellow split peas.
- 1¼ litres water
- 2 tbsp brown or coconut sugar
- 1 fresh green chilli, sliced thinly leave out if preparing for children
- 1 tsp fresh ginger, grated
- 1 tsp garlic, minced
- 3 fresh tomatoes, chopped finely, or
- 300 ml tinned tomatoes, chopped for a darker & richer dal
- 1 tsp salt
- ¼ tsp store-bought or homemade garam masala see recipe below for homemade
- 1-2 tbsp lemon juice
TARKA (Tempering the Chana Dal)
- 2 tbsp ghee or sunflower oil
- ½ tsp cumin seeds
- ½ tsp mustard seeds
- ⅛ tsp fenugreek seeds optional
- 10 fresh or dried curry leaves (fresh is best)
- ½ tsp turmeric powder
- ½ tsp chilli powder
Homemade Garam Masala Spice Blend (Makes enough for a small jar)
- 35 g coriander seeds
- 30 g cumin seeds
- 2 tbsp green cardamoms
- 2 tbsp whole cloves
- 1 tbsp black peppercorn
- 3 cinnamon sticks or
- 4 tbsp cinnamon powder
- 1 tbsp fennel seeds
- 1 tsp nutmeg powder
- 1 whole star anise
- 2 bay leaves
- 2 dried red chillis
- 1 fresh green chilli, sliced
- fresh coriander leaves, chopped coarsely or whole
- 2 fresh green chillis, whole, to decorate
- Wash and drain the chana dal until the water runs clear. This will need to be done three times.
Stove-top method (cooking time: 1 hour 40 mins)
- Pour the water into a large pot and bring it to a boil. Add the drained chana dal to the pot and remove any scum that appears on the surface.
- Add the grated ginger and turmeric to the dal, mixing in well.
- Cover, leaving the lid just slightly ajar, turn the heat to low and simmer gently for approximately 90 minutes, until it is soft. Stir frequently during the last 30 minutes to prevent sticking.
- Take the lid off and increase the heat to medium-high for 1-2 mins to allow some of the water to evaporate.
- Add the brown sugar, chopped green chilli, garlic, fresh or tinned tomatoes and salt. Mix well. Lower the heat to simmer for 10 minutes.
High-Pressure Cooking Method (cooking time: 22-25 mins)
- Combine the chana dahl, water, grated ginger & turmeric in the high-pressure cooker pot.
- Close the lid and select 5 minutes on high-pressure mode.
- Allow the high-pressure cooker to release pressure for around 10 minutes before removing the lid.
- Add the brown sugar, green chilli, ginger, garlic, fresh or tinned tomatoes and salt. Mix well.
- Close the lid again and select 2 minutes on high-pressure mode.
- Allow the high-pressure cooker to release pressure for around 5 minutes before removing the lid.
TARKA (Tempering the Chana Dahl)
- In a small frying pan or pot, heat the ghee or oil over medium heat.
- Add the cumin seeds, mustard seeds, fenugreek seeds and curry leaves. Allow to sizzle and pop for 10 seconds, shaking the pan.
- Stir in the turmeric and chilli powder to the hot oil.
Garam Masala Spice Blend
- Measure all the spices needed.
- Heat a frying pan to low-medium heat.
- Dry roast all the ingredients listed, stirring constantly until they release their aromas. Be careful not to burn them.
- Turn the heat off and allow the spices to cool down in the pan.
- Once the spices have completely cooled down, transfer them to a small food processor or coffee grinder to blend until finely ground. Store in a dry, glass jar.
- Ladle the chana dahl into a large serving bowl.
- Immediately, stir the hot Tarka and add it to the chana dhal.
- Pour the lemon juice over the chana dahl.
- Sprinkle with garam masala and sliced green chillis (leave some whole to garnish).
- Keeps for 3 days chilled
- Suitable to freeze
GARAM MASALA SPICE BLEND
- Keeps for 6 months in a cool, dark place