Chana Dal

February 14, 2011 (Last Updated: December 31, 2019)
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I love cooking various international cuisines, but one of the most exciting for me is Indian cuisine.  When I first tried making Indian food, I found it to be a bit of a challenge, trying to make it truly authentic tasting without a single Indian bone in my body.  My first attempts at making Chicken Tikka Masala (though I’ve often read that this is really a bastardized Indian dish, and not truly authentic) did not result in the same spicy and creamy curry that I love.  It just wasn’t quite right, too watery, etc.  I didn’t give up on Indian cooking, though, and kept trying.  Over time, I have created many other Indian dishes I love, and even hosted a very successful Indian feast at my last birthday!!  I also recently shared a really delicious and easy recipe for Dal Makhani, the Queen of all dals.  I am inspired by visits to “Curry Hill” in Manhattan, where I not only dine on wonderful food, but visit Kalustyan’s to pick up various authentic ingredients for dishes I am dying to create!

This is where I buy the ingredients I either can’t easily find at supermarkets, or ones that are simply superior quality because they are sold in this specialty shop rather than an alternative venue.  I have purchased a variety of lentils/dals and spices here that I know would be inferior or unavailable elsewhere, and fortunately for my non-New York readers, Kalustyan’s sells their products online (they even sell the elusive “black garlic” here)!  For the chana dal recipe I’m about to share, I not only purchased the actual dal at Kalustyan’s, but I also got the fresh ginger, ground turmeric (they sell 2 dry varieties here, as well as fresh turmeric root), garam masala, and Indian red chili powder.  While the first several ingredients are more readily available these days at other markets, I’ve never seen Indian red chili powder at a supermarket, and was so pleased that I had the option of purchasing it and using it in my future Indian cooking (FYI, Kalustyan’s sells about 30 varieties of dried chilies and chili powders, ones I’ve never seen anywhere else)!  Whereas a lot of Indian recipes may call for chili powder, they are generally not referring to the Southwestern or Mexican chili powders that most of us associate with the term.  This is not a spice blend, but instead is simply dried and ground Indian red chilies (which also means it’s spicier than chili powder blends, so be ware!).

Chana Dal

This chana dal came together very easily.  I was actually able to ignore it through most of its cooking, haha.  It includes less than half a dozen spices (if you don’t count the number of spices actually in the garam masala spice mixture) and yet when everything comes together, it tastes like comforting perfection.  My friend Sydney joined me for a bowl of my homemade chana dal and some store-bought whole wheat naan, and exclaimed that the dal tasted like it came from an Indian restaurant (she also loved it so much she had seconds!).  I must completely agree with her.  It really and truly tastes like an Indian dream, and best of all, it’s a cinch to make.  Also, it’s vegan (if using vegetable oil instead of ghee), gluten-free, high-fiber, high-protein, low-fat, and incredibly low on the glycemic index.  It’s great for people with dietary restrictions who still like their food to taste good (and why shouldn’t they?!) and, like other legume dishes, it fills you up and keeps you full so you’re actually eating less (getting less hungry later) and more likely to lose weight.  I hope you will join me in exploring more Indian cooking in the future.  I had fallen in love with eating Indian food a long long time ago, but am now becoming more infatuated with cooking these beautiful ingredients.  I hope to have more fun Indian recipes to share in the near future 🙂

*Note*: This recipe calls for chana dal or yellow split peas, but they are not the same thing.  Chana dal is obviously preferable, but if it is unavailable, you can substitute with yellow split peas.

Chana Dal
Serves 4 to 6
(Adapted from Madhur Jaffrey’s Indian Cooking)

1 1/2 cups chana dal or yellow split peas, picked over, washed and drained
5 cups water
1/2 teaspoon ground turmeric
2 thin slices unpeeled ginger
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon garam masala
1 1/2 tablespoons ghee (clarified butter) or vegetable oil
2 cloves garlic, peeled and chopped
1/4 teaspoon ground cumin or 1/2 teaspoon cumin seeds
1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon Indian red chili powder

Put the dal in a heavy pot along with the water. Bring to a boil and remove any surface scum. Add the turmeric and ginger. Cover, leaving the lid slightly ajar, turn heat to low, and simmer gently for 1 to 1 1/2 hours or until the dal is tender. Stir every 5 minutes or so during the last 30 minutes of cooking to prevent sticking. If the dal is too liquidy, remove the cover and raise the heat to medium toward the end of cooking, allowing it to reduce and thicken. Remove the ginger slices. If you like your dal on the thicker side, use the back of a wooden spoon to slightly mash up some of the dal to thicken it a bit more. Add the salt and garam masala to the dal. Stir to mix.

Heat the ghee in a small frying pan over medium heat. When hot, add the garlic. Stir and fry until the garlic is golden. Add the ground cumin and chili powder into the pan. Immediately lift the pan off the heat and pour the mixture into the pot with the dal. Stir to mix. Serve hot with basmati rice or Indian bread, such as naan.

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