I get a lot of requests to share my dhal recipes.
Growing up, my memory of dhal was of my mother added lentils to leftover meat dishes. She would make a broth from a leftover lamb or chicken dish by adding more water and spices. To this broth dhal was added and within 20 minutes a tasty meal was prepared.
So what is dhal? This is a south Asian term and usually refers to lentils which have their outer skins removed and are split. There are so many varieties including red lentils (masoor dhal), white lentils (urad dhal), yellow lentils (channa dhal, moong dhal) and so on.
Before, I share my recipe here's a few key benefits of including dhal in your diet.
- Compared to other dried beans and whole lentils, dhal is much quicker to prepare as the outer skins have been removed and the lentil has been split. This process also removes some anti-nutrients like phytates, which are mostly found in the skins. Phytates bind to minerals like magnesium and calcium and zinc making them unavailable for digestion.
- Dhal is protein-rich and is particularly valuable as a protein source in vegan and vegetarian diets
- It's a good source of the B-complex vitamins, which support energy management in the body
- A good source of both soluble and insoluble fibre, which support digestion and gut flora health
- May help to lower cholesterol and manage weight/blood sugar due to its soluble fibre content, which absorbs excess cholesterol, creates fullness
Dhals are traditionally prepared by adding therapeutic spices like turmeric, ginger and black pepper. This improves the nutritional benefits further with the addition of antioxidants, essential oils, phytonutrients etc. So here's my recipe for making red lentil dhal.
3 cups of split red lentils (masoor dhal)
1 medium sized onion
1 garlic bulb
1 inch piece of fresh ginger root
3-4 green chillies (optional)
2 tbsp of either coconut oil or organic clarified butter (ghee)
1 tsp unrefined salt like Himalayan or Celtic (or to taste)
1 tsp black peppercorns
1 tsp coriander seeds
1 tsp cumin seeds
1 tsp turmeric
1-2 bay leaves
1 cinnamon stick
1 tsp black mustard seeds
1 fresh tomato chopped
3 cups fresh chopped spinach
1/4-1/2 freshly squeezed lemon (optional)
1/2 cup of chopped fresh coriander
- I measured 3 cups of dhal into a bowl and then rinsed it through allowing 4-5 changes of fresh water until the water becomes clear.
- I let the dhal soak for around 30 minutes. As the dhal soaks in water it absorbs water and expands. This helps speed up the cooking process and makes the dhal easier to digest.
- I then added water to completely cover the dhal so that there was around 2 inches of water above the dhal.
- Next, I placed the dhal to cook on a medium heat.
- In a separate pan, I toasted a teaspoon each of peppercorns, cumin and coriander seeds and then ground them up. In my opinion, toasting and grinding whole seeds really makes a difference to the taste as it helps to release the aromatic oils from the seeds. When seeds are already ground and packaged they quickly lose this aroma and taste.
- I blended the ginger by slicing it up and adding it to the fresh green chillies along with some water. If you don't have a blender then just slice the ginger and use chillies whole.
- I peeled/thinly sliced my onions and finely chopped the garlic. If you've got a food processor then use them to save time.
As you can see, I have blended the ginger and chilles and ground the cumin, coriander and peppercorns in my spice grinder.
- As the dhal comes up to the boil, foam builds on the surface of the water. I scooped the foam off as they are impurities, which may cause bloating. I did this a few times as the foam kept forming.
- I poured in the blended chilli and ginger and turned the heat to a simmer. Fresh ginger helps prevent bloating and spasm when eating dhal. For some people the high levels of fibre in dhal can be an issue.
- Next I added to the dhal a teaspoon of each of: Himalayan salt, turmeric powder. I also added a couple of bay leaves and a cinnamon stick. You may add more or less spices, it's up to your personal taste. I also stirred in all of the toasted and freshly ground black pepper, cumin and coriander.
- I'm adding some red chilli flakes too (can't resist but again totally optional)
- I left the dhal to cook until it started to break down. At this point I prepared the dhal toppings.
- I toasted a teaspoon of black mustard seeds in my frying pan using no oil until the seeds start popping.
- For the remaining dhal toppings, I melted around 2 tbsp of organic clarified butter into the frying pan. I then sautéed the chopped onions until they started to brown. You may use coconut oil if you wish but please do not use any refined vegetable-based seed oils which are highly refined and inflammatory.
- I made a space in the middle of the frying onions and stirred in the chopped garlic. I add my garlic in after the onions have cooked a bit as they brown very quickly.
- I stirred the garlic and onions around in the pan until they were golden brown. I quickly mixed the browned onion and garlic into the dhal. By now the dhal had broken down.
- I then stir-fried the chopped tomato in the frying pan and added them into the dhal.
- I poured some hot water into the frying pan to deglaze and remove as much flavour from the pan and then poured this into the dhal.
- Finally, I added in some chopped baby spinach and let it cook for a minute before adding my chopped coriander and some freshly squeezed lemon juice to give it a zing.
So that's it, my dhal recipe. At the end of cooking, I always check my flavouring and make any adjustments. If this recipe seems a little complex then simplify it by cutting down on some of the spices but do try to include adding turmeric, ginger and fried onions and garlic at the end along with the coriander.
Adding leafy green vegetables like coriander, spinach and fenugreek helps to enhance the mineral content of this dish further. My mother's method of creating a bone broth for cooking her lentils in helped to mineralise the dhal. Split dehulled lentils do still contain some phytates, which bind to minerals like magnesium, iron and calcium. So try adding vegetable, seaweed or meat-based broths to add flavour and minerals to this dish.