Lentil Soup or Dal
This is a classic vegetarian dish, and so very good. Even better the next day. Make a big pot and you’ll have lunch for a week.
Freshly made soup of split urad dal, potatoes and carrots – cooked to the fall-apart stage.
Lentil Soup or Sabji Wali Dal (Vegetable and Lentil Soup)
1 cup lentils or split peas
1 – 2 cups chopped or sliced vegetables – your choice, eg. potatoes, carrots, cauliflower, green beans, spinach, etc. (I usually make it with about 1 1/2 cups of carrots and potatoes)
3 – 4 cups hot or boiling water (approx)
2 Tbsp. butter, or combination of butter and oil (or ghee – clarified butter)
1/2 tsp. mustard seeds
1 small onion, finely chopped, or about 1/2 to 3/4 cup
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 tsp. turmeric
1/4 tsp. cayenne pepper or pure hot chili powder
1 tsp. garam masala
1 tsp. salt
1 tomato, chopped (though you can make dal without tomato)
1 Tbsp. fresh cilantro or coriander, finely chopped (optional)
Different kinds of lentils and peas take different amounts of time to cook. Check the package to see. Gauge your time accordingly. In general, but especially for longer cooking lentils, wait until they are tender before adding the vegetables. When making soup, lentils (dals) are best cooked to the fall-apart stage, when they become very soft and ‘creamy’, so expect to cook at least an extra 20 – 30 minutes, or more, past the normal cook-til-tender time.
Sort lentils and remove any debris or bad ones. Rinse until clean. Cover lentils with very hot water, or bring water to a boil and then add the lentils. Simmer, covered, until tender, or very nearly so. Add vegetables. Cover again and simmer until vegetables are well done and lentils are very soft, checking and stirring occasionally. Check more frequently as you near the end of the cook time and the lentils begin to break apart. Make sure to stir and scrape the bottom of the pot to loosen anything beginning to stick, and add more water as needed.
Meanwhile, heat butter or oil in a small pan over quite low heat (butter will brown and begin to burn quickly over anything higher than a medium heat, and even at that you’ll have to watch it) and fry mustard seeds until they start to pop and crackle. Add chopped onion and garlic. Saute for a few minutes, until they begin to brown, or ‘carmelize’. Then add spices, salt and chopped tomato, and cook until soft – about 5 minutes. Set aside if you’re still waiting for the lentils to finish.
When the lentils are done, stir the onion mixture into the soup and simmer 5 more minutes or so. Garnish with cilantro, if desired. Serve with rice (basmati if you have it) or chapatti/roti.
Lentil soup/dal will thicken as it cools, and tastes even better the next day. Unless the soup is still quite runny, you will want to add a little water to leftovers if re-heating over the stove so it doesn’t scorch on the bottom.
Next day….split urad dal with potatoes and carrots, and a scoop of rice on top. Yum! (It smells and tastes better than it looks, believe me!!)
Examples of some lentils/peas/beans to use, and approximate cook times:
Please note: Cook times, even when using the same kind of lentil as before, can vary, depending on factors such as the age or dryness of the bean, as well as other obvious ones such as pre-soaking, and cooking temperature. So give yourself some leeway as far as time.
In general, expect quicker cooking small or split lentils and split peas to take 30 minutes to an hour to reach a very soft consistency (twice or more than what it takes to cook to an ‘al dente’ or just tender stage). Longer cooking lentils can take the better part of an afternoon.
Brown or Green Lentils – the “khaki” colored lentils most easily found in a regular grocery store: cook to tender in about 20 – 30 minutes. Expect to cook longer – 45 minutes or more – for them to reach the fall-apart stage.
Red Lentils (actually more of a salmon color): cook to tender in about 15 – 20 minutes. Again, expect to cook longer – about 30 minutes for a more creamy consistency. Red lentils are also fairly easy to find.
Toor Dal (Split Pigeon Peas) – looks similar to yellow split peas: 35 – 45 minutes.
Split Urad/Urid Dal (also known as Split Matpe Bean or Black Gram) – this is Urad Dal, with the black skins removed, and split (leaving a creamy-white interior). This will either need to be presoaked for 3 hours and then cooked for about 50 – 60 minutes, or simmered for 2 hours plus. This is probably my favorite dal.
(Whole Urad Dal with the skin still on is black in color. It takes even longer to cook – 3 hours or more – has a stronger flavor, and is usually made into a curry on its own – just lentils and sauce.)
Split Peas (either yellow or green): 35 – 40 minutes
Split Mung Beans (Moong Dal): about 45 – 50 minutes (Whole Mung will take longer, or will need a pre-soak, similar to Urad Dal. Again, it is perhaps better to make on its own into a curry).