This is the Indian version of comfort food and a more nutritious and inexpensive dish is difficult to find. Serve with yogurt raita and rice for a complete meal. You’ll find yellow mung dal at any Indian grocery and some high end specialty markets. It’s important to pick over the dal before cooking to make sure there are no bits of grit or debris. This variety of dal is particularly mild and digestible.
The lentils are first cooked with water to create a soupy broth. They are seasoned with a separately sautéed topping of spices before serving, called tarka. In this case the tarka topping includes onions, tomatoes and leafy greens as well as spices.
For the dal:
- 1 1/2 cups dried yellow mung dal, picked over and rinsed under water several times
- 6 cups water
- 1/2 teaspoon turmeric
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1 tablespoon peeled and minced fresh ginger
For the tarka topping:
- 2 tablespoons peanut or vegetable oil
- 3/4 cup finely chopped onion
- 1 medium tomato, cut into cubes or 8 cherry tomatoes
- 1 teaspoon cumin seeds
- 3/4 tablespoons ground coriander
- 1 heaping teaspoon ground cumin
- Pinch or more of cayenne, optional
- 2 cups stemmed chard or spinach leaves, roughly chopped
- Place the lentils, water, turmeric and salt in a pot. Cook gently over medium-low heat until tender (about 20 minutes, give or take). The lentils should be separate and discernible in the pot, but not tough when you bite into them. Be careful not to overcook or the dal will become mushy. Also, keep an eye on the pot as it comes to a boil—dal tends to froth and boil over easily.
- Add the ginger and cook for 5 more minutes. Remove from heat.
- To make tarka topping, heat oil in a small skillet over medium heat. Cook onion and cumin seeds until onion is light brown. Add tomato and remaining spices and cook until tomatoes are soft. As they soften, carefully flatten tomatoes with a wooden spoon to release juices. If using chard, add during the last five minutes of cooking. For spinach add to the pan, stir, and turn off the heat as soon as spinach wilts.
- Pour topping over dal and stir lightly before serving. Taste for salt and add more as needed.