For a long time, Indian food for me meant meat, curry sauce, and a pile of white rice. Thankfully, as I've learned to cook and expanded my horizons, I've replaced that narrow definition with the wondrous variety of flavor and texture that comes from all over that country. Madhur Jaffray's books have helped me tremendously along the way, which is where this recipe comes from—her well-known and excellent Indian Cooking.
A dish like this demonstrates probably my biggest revelation about Indian cooking: that meat is actually not all that common, and that the things they do to transform vegetables are magical. Were I to become a vegetarian, I'd have no problem as long as I had a well-stocked Indian grocery store nearby.
This dish relies on two kinds of pulses, the yellow moon dal and regular red lentils. You could easily substitute all red lentils for this and it would still be pretty good: the real secret is in the fragrant topping, a pile of browned onions, chiles, and spices, bathed in screaming hot ghee and poured over the top of the dish. Once you stir them in, they perfume the humble lentil like you wouldn't believe.
- Active time: 15 minutes
- Total time:50 minutes
- 1 cup moong dal
- 1 cup split red lentils (masoor dal)
- 5 cups water
- 1/2 teaspoon ground turmeric
- 1 1/2 teaspoons salt
- 4 tablespoons ghee, clarified butter, or vegetable oil
- Generous pinch asafetida
- 1 teaspoon whole cumin seeds
- 3-5 dried red chiles
- 1 small onion, cut into thin rings
- Cooked white rice, for serving
Combine both lentils in a bowl and cover with several changes of cold water. Drain well and transfer to a heavy-bottomed pot. Add water and turmeric and bring to a boil over high heat; reduce to simmer, cover loosely to prevent boiling over, and cook 40-50 minutes until lentils are tender, stirring ocassionaly. Season with salt.
In the meantime, heat the ghee or oil in a small saute pan over medium heat until shimmering. Add asafetida and cumin seeds and allow cumin seeds to sizzle for a few seconds, then add chiles and cook until starting to darken, just a few seconds. Add onion and cook until brown and beginning to crisp, turning heat down if necessary to prevent burning.
Transfer onion mixture to lentils and cover pot, allowing to sit for a few minutes to trap the aromas. Serve with cooked white rice.