4 to 6 ounces of red lentils
chopped fresh parsley (dried parsley will do)
an onion, peeled and chopped however you like, to be added to the lentils
another onion, cut in half lengthwise and sliced into half-rings, to be browned later
a carrot or two, sliced into rounds
two or three potatoes, peeled and quartered
any other vegetable you feel like adding, e. g. frozen peas
1 lemon, to be squeezed later (use a lime if you can get one, but take care that no pips get into the mix)
8 to 10 ounces of white basmati rice (you can use brown basmati if you like)
Spices for Dal
quarter teaspoonful of ground turmeric
whole fresh ginger root, peeled and sliced into rounds about an eight of an inch thick
several cloves (not bulbs!) of garlic, peeled, but left whole
parsley, fresh or dried, chopped
salt, about half a teaspoon, DO NOT ADD till the lentils have been cooking for at least half an hour
ground black pepper
the freshly-squeezed lemon-juice or lime-juice
Spices for the tarka (which you fry in hot oil and add to the dal just before serving)
1/4 tsp. of powdered asafoetida
half teaspoon whole cumin seed
2 teaspoons of whole black mustard seeds
4 black pepper corns
1 bay leaf
two or three whole dried red chilli peppers (the long, pointy ones)
Wash the rice thoroughly under running water, then soak it in about two and a half pints of water, to which you add a teaspoonful of salt, and stir with your hand. Cover it so no light gets in, and set it aside for about 40 minutes.
Now measure out the lentils and wash them in cold water, thoroughly.
Then place lentils in a largish saucepan covering the lentils with enough cold water, so the water level is about an inch or so above the lentils.
Bring the lentils to the boil, skimming off the froth and scum produced during this process with a spoon (you will not be able to remove it all, but get most of it).
You can always spoon off or pour off water if you’ve added too much to start with, but you can’t add water to the dal once it has boiled, as this will make it taste thin and watery – so it’s best to use more water than you think you need (the lentils will absorb quite a lot as they soften and cook).
Then add the turmeric, garlic, ginger and parsley, and the vegetables you are using (I have used broccoli and red peppers recently, because that was all we had), turn the heat down to a slow simmer, and cover (or partly cover) the pot. Keep an eye on it so it doesn’t boil over, or stick on the bottom.
While the Dal is simmering we can drain and cook the rice.
You will need a medium-sized saucepan, preferably heavy-bottomed, and with a close-fitting lid, or a lid that can have a weight placed on it during the cooking.
Drain the rice, get the pan hot (but not so hot that the butter burns when you put it in!), and drop in a knob of butter (about the size of a walnut). Swirl it round the pan as it sizzles and melts.
Then throw in the drained basmati rice, and stir it rapidly with a wooden spoon or spatula over a high heat for about a minute. Make sure you have just under a pint of cold water standing by to add to the pan. It goes in with a big hot whoosh, and you can then add a teaspoonful of salt, and stir. Bring to the boil, stir again, and reduce heat to very low indeed, and cover. Check after 20 minutes, and stir once, and cover again. It will be ready in another ten to twenty minutes.
While the rice is cooking, you return to the dal, which by now may need stirring every so often, to stop it from getting too thick at the bottom of the pot.
If the lentils have got all soft and fluffy, and the potatoes are cooked, it’s time to squeeze the lemon. Add salt to the dal, then the lemon-juice. Stir and bring back to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer for about ten minutes more, covered.
Meanwhile, get the spices lined up for the tarka. You can use more or less any whole spices, such as cardamom, cloves, a few fenugreek seeds if you like.
Heat about two tablespoons of vegetable oil (sunflower oil is good) in a small pan or frying-pan till hot. Add the onion half-rings, and stir till they are brown, then remove them and set them aside in a bowl. If the oil is still hot enough, add the asafoetida powder – the oil must be hot enough to make the asafoetida sizzle. Then, in quick succession, add the other whole spices. They will expand and darken, and go pop all over the place! You uncover the dal, and tip the oil and spices into the dal, being very careful to tip away from you, or you could get hot oil splash in your face.
Stir the spices and oil into the dal, turn off the heat, and cover.
Serve the rice, spoon or ladle the dal over it, add some crispy fried onions, and eat.
An extra squeeze of lemon-juice on the dal is nice, if you have any left.
Avoid biting into the slices of ginger in the dal, unless you want to (they can look like potatoes). Avoid biting into the whole red chilli peppers, unless you want to! They can be mistaken for browned onions, so you can remove them (and the ginger) from the dal by hand before serving, if you are eating with persons of a nervous disposition, such as children. It helps if you can remember how many slices of ginger you put in, and the same for the whole chillies.