I always think it’s kind of magical how certain tastes, smells and sounds can immediately transport us back to forgotten or treasured memories. It’s incredible how our bodies store these moments inside us - just one scent, song or flavour can evoke so many different feelings from the past.
For us, the scent of spices cooking in the kitchen always gives me a sweet nostalgia for our days in India. It spins me off into long daydreams about our adventures. Using our hands to scoop up dhal and rice. The sweet, comforting smell of chai dancing through the train carriage. Thick clouds of steam drifting off our plates of biriyani.
Being the foodies that we are, we talk about these moments (and food in general) a lot. But we also spend a lot of time trying to recreate these special flavours in our own little kitchen. This Yellow Dal is one of our favourite dishes to make at the moment; it’s simple to make, has incredible flavour and is perfectly comforting without being too rich.
Even if you haven’t been to India, we hope the scents and flavours of this dish transport you to some place warm and special …
1 large onion, finely sliced
1 medium tomato, chopped
2 celery sticks, finely chopped
1 small carrot, finely chopped
4 gloves of garlic, crushed or chopped
½ inch ginger root, crushed or chopped
250g red lentils
2 ½ tsps panch phoran (spice mix equal parts cumin seeds, fennel seeds, fenugreek seeds, nigella seeds and mustard seeds)
1 hot dried red chili
½ tsp turmeric
In this dal we often make a spice paste first, then add the lentils, then finally add a tadka (or tempering) of fried spices and onions right at the end to create a more intense flavour. If you want to skip the tadka then you can cook all the ingredients in the paste from the beginning and it will still be delicious. If you’re doing the tadka, reserve a third of the chopped onion and half of the panch phoran mix for the end.
Celery and carrot are not traditional in Indian dal recipes but I love the rich sweetness they bring to our recipe.
First rinse the lentils, and then cook until completely soft and mashable. You can use a pressure cooker or just a saucepan. Small red lentils usually only take 30-35 minutes or so in a pan.
In another pan heat 2 tablespoons of coconut oil on a medium heat and add half of the panch phoram and red chilli, fry for 30 seconds to a minute until fragant and the mustard seeds begin to crackle. Take care that the pan is not so hot that the cumin seeds burn.
Then immediately add 2/3 of the chopped onions and fry for 3 to 4 minutes, then add the celery and continue to fry until the onions becomes slightly golden and the celery soft.
Add the crushed garlic, ginger and turmeric powder and fry for 30 seconds, then add the finely chopped tomato and carrot. Fry on a medium heat for 5 or 6 minutes until the tomato softens and you begin to see the oil separating from the masala at the sides.
Then add the cooked mashed lentils and stir the whole mixture well. Add enough water to get the dal to the consistency you like, I like it to be fairly runny and soup like. Add salt to taste and simmer for another 7 to 8 minutes until it thickens again slightly.
Take the dal off the heat and make the tadka. Heat 2/3 tbsp coconut oil in small non-stick pan, add the remaining panch phoran mix, then the remaining onion (at this point you could add another dried red chilli if you want your dal to have more spice). Fry on a medium to high heat for 5 or 6 minutes until the onion is soft, then pour this mix including the oil into the dhal, stir well and cover for a few minutes so that the flavours are well combined.
Finely stir in plenty of chopped fresh coriander and enjoy!
What smells/flavours/sounds remind you of special memories?