[Photograph: Lucy Schaeffer]

As Raghavan Iyer explains in his new cookbook, Indian Cooking Unfolded, dals are a cornerstone of Indian cuisine, especially when you're talking about vegetarian cooking. They're relatively easy to make, full of protein and fiber, and offer countless variations in spice and color. You could probably live off of dals for weeks and rarely get bored. This version, made with regular yellow split peas (or chana dal if you can find it), features a particular seasoning technique. Instead of cooking all of the spices with the peas and potatoes, Iyer blends together toasted seeds and chiles with tomatoes to form a thick, ruddy paste. This paste gets stirred into the dal towards the end of cooking, which allows the spices to retain their vibrancy.

Why I picked this recipe: I make dals all of the time, but I am usually pretty lazy about seasoning.

What worked: Despite the unfamiliar technique, this dal was easy to put together and had a lovely smokiness I've never been able to bring out in my own dals.

What didn't: While I think there was enough salt in the dish as a whole, the potatoes and peas weren't seasoned as deeply as they could have been. Next time, I'll add some of the salt to the simmering pea and potato mixture.

Suggested tweaks: If you can get your hands on chana dal (split baby chickpeas), by all means use that here in place of the yellow peas. If you can't get either split yellow peas or chana dal, you can use regular split green peas (the kind you use for split pea soup) in their place.

As always with our Cook the Book feature, we have five (5) copies of Indian Cooking Unfolded to give away this week.

About the author: Kate Williams is a freelance writer and personal chef living in Berkeley, CA. She is a contributor to The Oxford American and Berkeleyside NOSH, and she blogs at cookingwolves.wordpress.com.

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