Dall or lentils are high sources of protein and very tasty. They are the staple diet of many homes in South Asia, as they are cheap, quick and easy to cook and can be eaten with rice, bread or any cereal of choice. Accompanied by a meat or vegeterian dish and salad, and preferably a fruit after, they constitute a 5/day complete meal.
There are all sorts of lentils of different colours, shapes and cooking times. In western health shops you can buy lentils like puy lentils. In Indian/Asian grocers, you can buy lentils such as masoor, mung, masr, urud, black, chana, tur etc.
Cooking lentils involves 3 usual steps. Step 1 involves boiling them in plenty of water till they go soft and seem ready for eating. While they are boiling away you can proceed with step 2 which is to prepare a sauce called a ‘tempering sauce’ in English and a ‘turka’ in Indian. Step 3 involves adding the turka into the boiling lentils and stirring gently till they are ready. Understanding this helps you cut across a plethora of different recipes and cook your own lentils. Always garnish lentils at the end with finally chopped coriander and even spring onions. Lets spell this out more thoroughly:
1)When you go shopping pick a few small packets of different types of lentils to experiment.
2)Nowadays most packaging mention boiling times, if not add a reasonable amount of water and boil covered at top temperature, and once they start boiling reduce fire to let them simmer. Remember lentils soak in a lot of water as they boil so you may need to top up water. Check every now and then till they appear to be softened.
3)The basic recipe for a good turka invariably involves frying some onions with a few fenugreek seeds, ginger powder and garlic puree(or fresh cut ginger and freshly crushed garlic) on a medium fire till light golden brown and then adding some canned or fresh tomatoes, and a couple of teaspoons each of turmeric, cili and cumin powders and salt, strirring this till the oil bubbles appear.
4) Now add the turka to your ready prepared lentils and stir in some coriander and adjust for salt, and thickness. If its too runny, boil a bit more or add some crushed cooked new potatoes or teaspoons of arrowroot. If too thick just add more boiling water.
Tips; 1)To the turka for light coloured lentils add some black mustard seeds, some chopped aubergine/okra, a can of coconut milk and a few curry leaves for added taste. 2)To the turka of dark coloured lentils add a handful of dried kasuri methi leaves. 3)Add some blended mustard oil to your frying oil for any turka, 4)use a small pinch of anardana and dried mango powders as well as asotefida(hing) powder and some ajwain seeds for a richer more authentic flavour. 5)Stir in some butter or olive oil at the end of the cooking process to give it a buttery taste. 6) The boiling times for darker lentils like mung and mah, and even chana can be reduced by using a pressure cooker. In the case of chana just 1 or 2 whistles are required. Urud and masoor are best cooked uncovered as they just require 5-10 minutes of boiling.