Dal is the Indian word used to describe both lentils and beans and the family of stewy dishes made from them. Butter, and often lots of it, is the key to the richest dal. (The first time I was in India, I was stunned by the amount of butter people used.) Ghee — clarified butter, which is butter with its milk solids removed, able to withstand high cooking temperatures — is traditional, but whole butter works just fine. Peanut oil and more neutral oils like grapeseed and corn are good alternatives.
I prefer slightly thicker but still soupy dal that you pour over something else — usually rice — and “dry” dal, where the beans remain intact. Thinner dals also make an effective and creamy sauce for simply cooked vegetables like potatoes, eggplants, squashes, carrots, and greens. Add more water or stock, or cream or coconut milk, and they become soup. At room temperature or chilled, they’re a fine dip for crudites. Dals even make surprisingly good sandwich fillings, especially with lettuce or sprouts and tomatoes.
You may want to double this recipe so you have some handy in the fridge or freezer, because it reheats beautifully. Don’t worry if the potatoes crumble a bit on the second go-round; they will only add body to the dish.
Other beans you can use: dried yellow or green split peas, split mung bean without skins; reduce the cooking time by 15 minutes or so.
Lentils and potatoes with curry
Makes: 4 servings
Time: About one hour
1 cup dried brown lentils, rinsed and picked over
3 1/2 cups water, coconut milk, or vegetable stock
1 tablespoon curry powder
2 medium russet potatoes, peeled and cut into large chunks
Salt and pepper
Yogurt for garnish (optional)
Minced fresh cilantro for garnish
Put the lentils, water, and curry powder in a medium saucepan and bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Turn the heat down to medium-low so that the liquid bubbles gently, cover partially, and cook, stirring occasionally, until the lentils start to absorb the water a bit, about 15 minutes.
Add the potatoes and cover the pan completely. Cook, undisturbed, for 10 minutes or so, then stir gently and check to make sure the lentils aren’t too dry. If so, add a little more liquid. Add salt when the lentils become tender.
Cover and continue cooking until the lentils are soft and beginning to turn to mush and the potatoes are tender at the center, another 5 to 10 minutes; add liquid if necessary. The mixture should be moist but not soupy. Add lots of pepper, stir, then taste and adjust the seasoning. Garnish with yogurt, if you’re using it, and cilantro and serve.
— From How to Cook Everything Vegetarian, available here.