Dals (pronounced Daals) are dried legumes, belonging to the pea family. They are available in many varieties in India. This recipe uses "chana" (pronounced chun-ah) dal, which are yellow in color and similar to, but not exactly the same as dried yellow split peas. If you can, buy genuine yellow chana dal from an Indian grocery store because the flavour and texture is different from the yellow split peas found in supermarkets.

To make spicy chana dal you will need:

  • One cup of chana dal.
  • One large onion, diced
  • One tablespoon canola oil or ghee
  • Salt to taste

And the following spices:

  • A one inch piece of ginger, sliced thinly and then cut into matchsticks
  • Three cloves of garlic, minced
  • One teaspoon of cumin powder
  • Half a teaspoon of cayenne pepper
  • Half a teaspoon of tumeric powder
  • Half a teaspoon of ground black pepper
  • Two bay leaves
  • Three cloves
  • Two large cardomom seeds
Alternatively, you can spice it with ground garam masala stepped-up with a few other ingredients. Not as authentic, but it tastes good. For this spice mixture you will need:

  • Two teaspoons of ground garam masala (appoximately – this will depend on the quality of your garam masala).
  • A one-inch chunk of ginger, finely sliced and then cut into matchsticks.
  • Three cloves of garlic, minced
  • Half a teaspoon of whole cumin seed
  • A quarter teaspoon of crushed chilis (double that quantity if you like hot food.)
  • A quarter teaspoon of ground black pepper
  • Method:

    Wash the dal and soak it for about 15 minutes. Discard the soaking water, it's got nasty stuff in it. Then heat a tablespoon of canola oil in a pot and add the spicing of your choice. When these become fragrant, add the onion. When the onion becomes translucent, add the ginger and garlic. Sauté all of these for a few minutes.

    Now add a few tablespoons of water and add the dal (the water will convey the flavours of the spices to the dal.) Continue cooking and allow the water to evaporate so that you're now back to sautéing (but not burning) things. When it starts to get a little too dry, add three cups of vegetable stock (it's okay to use water and dissolve a vegetable cube in it if you don't have stock.) Bring it to a boil and then reduce the heat and allow it to simmer until the dal becomes quite thick and the onions disappear (about 40 minutes on a stove, 20 in a pressure cooker). Add salt to taste towards the end of the cooking, as adding it too early makes the peas tougher in consistency.

    To provide more heat, you could also add tadka as a garnish. Tadka is made by sautéing sliced onions and red chilis in ghee and....Whaaa! It's hot!.

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