Because of its remote location in the Himalayan mountains and her valleys, the cuisine of Nepal uses mainly locally grown produce and lean meats. Like any nation, its dishes resemble those of neighbouring countries but with a particular national twist. Nepalese classics include steamed dumplings, noodle soup, pilau and a version of the warming lentil dish, dal. This Nepalese take on the vegetarian staple of the Indian subcontinent doesn’t require a whole lot of ingredients, but boasts a deep and wonderful flavour.
I like making a big pot of dal and freezing it in small batches. Just defrost slowly in your fridge and heat it up gently on the stove, adding a bit of water if needed.
Serve the dal with jasmine rice for a simple vegetarian dinner or make it part of a larger curry spread, like the Nepalese do in their traditional ‘Dal Bhat’: rice and lentils with a lamb or goat curry, spicy pickles, chutney and yoghurt.
• Clarified butter or canola oil
• 750 g red lentils
• 1 onion, chopped
• 2 cloves chopped garlic
• 3-inch piece of ginger, grated
• 1 tbsp coriander seeds, crushed
• 1 tbsp turmeric
• 1 dried chili, or chili flakes
• 1250 mL water
• Cilantro, roughly chopped
1. Heat a heavy bottomed pan and add about three tablespoons of oil or clarified butter. Sweat your onions on medium heat until translucent, about 5 minutes.
2. Add turmeric, garlic, ginger, chili and coriander seeds. Fry the spices and aromatics for 3–5 minutes. Your kitchen will smell amazing and it will bring out the flavours.
3. Add the lentils, stir to coat with the spice mixture. Add water and stir again, to remove any stuck bits from the bottom of your pan. Bring to a boil, then turn the heat down to low and simmer for about 15 minutes until the lentils are cooked but still hold their shape. Stir occasionally to prevent sticking. Keep an eye on the consistency; you don’t want the dal to be too watery, but be careful not to burn it. If you need to add a little more water, do.
4. Season your dal with salt to taste. Roughly chop the cilantro and stir into the dish just before serving.