Both Zed and I love dal and curries, but had always been intimidated by the spices required in Indian cookery, so I finally plunged in with this easy-sounding recipe from salon.com:
It was easy and delicious and I wish I had done it a lot sooner.
½ cup masoor dal, tiny split "red" lentils (the color of orange soda)
5 cups water
1 teaspoon salt (for dal)
5 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 teaspoon black mustard seeds
1 teaspoon whole cumin seeds
7 cloves garlic, cut slightly smaller than pea-size
½ teaspoon turmeric powder
½ teaspoon salt (for spice mix)
1. Soak the dal in cold water for 45 minutes to an hour, to rid the lentils of excess starch.
2. Drain the dal, give it a quick rinse, and bring it to a boil with the 5 cups water and the 1 teaspoon salt. Skim the foam off the top if you want. Turn it down to a moderate bubble and cover, leaving a crack for evaporation. (The amount of water doesn't actually matter because you can always just uncover it and let it reduce, and if it's too thick, you can just add more water.) Take a peek once in a while to make sure it's not bubbling violently, but pretty much you can just hang out for about 40 minutes, uncovering it for the last 10.
3. Check on the dal, which by now will have lost its Sunkist sparkle and be a mustardy yellow. If most of the lentils have dissolved and you're looking at a loose soup roughly the texture of a thin batter, get ready to make your entire house smell amazing.
4. In a heavy-bottom pan, get the oil hot enough over medium-high heat so that it just barely shimmers and flows as quickly as water. Add the black mustard seeds. When you start hearing them pop, add the cumin. As it sizzles, add the garlic and swirl the pan to coat it in the oil. Cook it until it turns even golden brown.
5. Then add the turmeric and ½ teaspoon salt.
6. Finally, add all of the lentils to the oil-spice mixture and allow the starches in the lentils to emulsify with the oil creating a thickened sauce.
Enjoy with rice, naan, or rice and naan like we did! Rice loves to soak up this flavorful lentil puree.