This simple, gluten-free, high-fiber Chana Dal (or bengal gram) is an excellent vegetarian and potentially vegan spiced Indian lentil dish. It's easy to make, hearty, and satisfying. You can serve it on its own with basmati rice or naan, or include it as part of an Indian dinner menu.
1 ½cupschana dal (or yellow split peas)picked over, washed and drained
2thin slices unpeeled ginger
1 ½tablespoonsghee (clarified butter) or vegetable oil
2clovesgarlicpeeled and chopped
½teaspooncumin seeds(use ¼ teaspoon ground cumin if you don't have seeds)
¼teaspoonIndian red chili powder(can substitute cayenne pepper, but check for spice level)
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 ½ hours or until the dal is very tender. If the dal is too liquidy, remove the cover and raise the heat to medium toward the end of cooking (the last 20 to 30 minutes or so), allowing it to reduce and thicken. Stir every 5 minutes or so during this period to prevent sticking.
Remove the ginger slices. Add the salt and garam masala to the dal. Stir to mix.
Heat the ghee or oil in a small frying pan over medium heat. When hot, add the cumin seeds and fry for a few seconds, then add the garlic. Stir and fry until the garlic is golden. Add the 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.
Some recipes for chana dal require you to soak the dal in water for several hours. The cooking time for those recipes is usually shorter. For this recipe you don't need to soak the dal, but it will take a bit longer to cook it until tender. I like to cook this dal until it naturally falls apart and self-thickens. You could cook it a bit less and then mash it a bit, but if you're patient it will do it on its own.
This recipe uses kosher salt (aka cooking salt, kitchen salt, coarse salt outside of the US). If you are using table salt, definitely scale down the salt as that is a saltier type of salt! The type of salt will make a big difference in how salty your food tastes, so keep that in mind.
For my preferred thickness I always cook this dal uncovered toward the end of the cook time to allow it to reduce. Depending on your preference you can uncover the pot and start reducing it the last 15 to 30 minutes of cooking. Just make sure to stir regularly so it doesn't stick.
If you over-thicken it, you can always thin it back out with some water. This is helpful when reheating the chana dal. I often stir in a little water to loosen it back up.