Daal is probably the easiest thing to cook and most satisfying when you are famished. There are dishes like Daal Makhni that can take a whole day to make, but then who wants to eat them everyday anyway? What I am talking about is simple and tasty daal that’s easy enough to prepare everyday. Once you know the basic technique, you can make it with as few or as many ingredients as you like.
A basic daal is cooked in two steps: first, we boil the daal and second, we add tadka or tempering to it. That said, these two simple steps can be performed in countless variations.
Which daal? The quickest-cooking daals are split yellow moong, masoor, arhar and white urad. Whole and split green moong and split urad can also be boiled relatively easily if you have a pressure cooker. You can also combine daals in various ways. The only thing to keep in mind is that all of them should have the same cooking time. e.g. you can cook yellow moong with orange masoor. But it won’t be such a good idea to cook it with whole urad, because by the time whole urad is boiled, moong would have become a mush!
Cleaning. You should always make sure that there are no small pebbles or any such objects in the daal before you start. After making sure of that, wash the daal in cold water till the water runs clear. Daals without skin usually take longer because of the starch.
Boiling. The easiest way is to use a pressure cooker. Use approximately 3 times as much water as there is daal. You can also add salt, turmeric, tomatoes, green chillies and in some cases spinach at this stage. Put the pressure cooker on medium-high flame and once the steam has built up, turn it down to medium-low. Split yellow moong, masoor, arhar and white urad are done after 1-2 whistles. Others will take slightly longer.
Tadka. After boiling, we temper the daal with a spiced oil which is called tadka or chaunk. All tadkas will consist of a little oil/ghee, cumin/mustard seeds and some spices. Rest is really up to you. You can use any or all of the following depending on their availability and your mood: onions, tomatoes, ginger, garlic, green chillies, curry leaves, dry red chillies, asafoetida, red chilli powder, coriander powder, garam masala . The general sequence is:
- Heat oil/ghee, then add cumin and/or mustard seeds. Allow them to sizzle and splutter.
- If you are using, dry red chillies/asafoetida/curry leaves, add them now.
- Next add onions/ginger/garlic/green chillies and cook them to desired level of brownness.
- If you didn’t boil the daal with tomatoes, you can add them now and cook for a few minutes.
- Reduce the heat a little and add dry spices. Make sure you don’t burn them. I almost always add red chilli powder and coriander powder. Sometimes, I add garam masala.
Once you have prepared the tempering, mix it with the daal. If the daal seems too thick, add a little water and bring it to a boil. If it is too thin, cook it without a lid till some of the water evaporates. That’s it! Garnish with some coriander (or not) and eat :).
The simplest tadka I know of is oil + cumin seeds + red chilli powder and it’s awesome with yellow moong dal. Happy experimenting!