“Easy to Cook. Hard to Resist.” Those are the alluring words written on my box of Shan brand curry powder, and I have to agree with them: use the Shan brand of curry powder to season lentils and you’ll have an easy dinner that’s, well, hard to resist.
Lentils, or dal (pronounced like “doll”), are a go-to dinner for Sam and me. No fresh food in the fridge? Make lentils. No time or energy to create an innovative dinner? Make lentils. From a few pantry items—lentils, water, onion and spices—a simple, filling, nutritious meal emerges.
While you could use individual spices to season your lentils, I recommend venturing into an Indian grocery store to buy a lentil-specific curry mix. As soon as you walk into the Indian grocery store, you’ll see shelves lined with little boxes of seasoning for any Pakistani or Indian dish you could imagine making. And they’re a steal: a 3.5 oz. box of spice mix costs only $0.99. Since the curry mixes contain so many spices—red chili, turmeric, black pepper, cumin, coriander, brown and green cardamom, garlic, ginger and dried dill leaves, for example—it’s more economical than buying the individual spices and making your own lentil spice mix.
We use split red lentils, which you can get at either a regular or Indian grocery store. Though they bear the name of red lentils, they are actually orange in color. To top it off, they turn yellow when rinsed in water and cooked with turmeric. Sure, lentils may be confusing in the area of color-identity, but when it comes to cooking them, they’re easy to cook and hard to resist.
We like to eat our dal with roti, a whole wheat flatbread. You can read my instructions on making roti here. Whole wheat pita is an acceptable substitute for roti if you’re in a pinch. The dal can also be served with white or brown basmati rice.
2 Tablespoons ghee or vegetable oil
1 large onion, roughly chopped, divided
1 ½ – 2 Tablespoons Shan Dal Curry Mix (See photo below)
1 cup split red lentils (Masoor Dal)
4 cups water
1-inch piece of ginger, chopped
1-inch piece of jalapeno, chopped
Make the Dal
Heat 1 Tablespoon ghee or oil in a large saucepan over medium heat. When the ghee or oil is hot, add half the chopped onion. Cook onion until soft and translucent, about 5 minutes. Meanwhile, rinse lentils in several washes of cold water until the water from the lentils runs clear.
When the onion in the pan is soft, stir in the dal curry mix and evenly coat the onions with the spices. Next, stir in the lentils and water. Bring to a simmer and cook until the lentils are tender, about 30 minutes.
While the lentils are cooking, prepare the tardka, a caramelized onion mixture that is stirred into the lentils before serving. Heat the remaining tablespoon of ghee or oil in a skillet. When hot, stir in the remaining onions and cook until golden and caramelized. Before removing the lentils from the stove, stir in the onion tardka. Spoon the lentils into a serving dish or individual bowls and top with jalapenos and ginger. Serve with roti or rice.