Wednesday, March 6, 2013

The Humble Dal Chawal

The Weekend feasting of pancakes was very decadent, so for Sunday night dinner we settled on a simple family favourite - Dal Chawal. This is also a great vegan dish, just use oil instead of ghee.

Dal is the Hindi name for Lentils and Chawal is rice. Dal Chawal is a staple in every Indian household. It is a great and inexpensive source of protein. Every family has its favourite dal, everyone has a different style of cooking it. As far as the choice of lentils go, there's a lot to choose from. This dal recipe is made from toor/arhar (yellow pigeon peas) dal. Its easily available in Indian Grocers and is a popular choice in many households. The South Indian Sambhar is popular, the Gujarati and Marwari dal is also made from arhar. My style of cooking this dal is primarily influenced by my mother and my upbringing in a Marwari (Marwar is a region in Rajasthan) household but living in the south. Its quite a unique mix and I suppose thats why I understand the varied flavours of Indian cooking. 

When I moved to Australia for my undergraduate study, I was fresh out of high school and barely knew cooking. I think one of the dishes I missed the most was mama's Dal chawal. It was then that I started cooking, as only I could replicate those flavours that were the essence of my family and reminded me of home. Dal chawal is simple, comfort food. I know at the end of every holiday where we have eaten out a lot, when we are home the first thing I cook is Dal chawal. It is but merely lentils and rice, but with the love and flavour that my mother packs into it, it can surpass the finest of delicacies - in my world anyway.


Serves 3- 4


1 cup toor/arhar dal (yellow pigeon peas) - Soaked in water for about an hour

1 small onion - finely chopped

3-4 cm piece of ginger - finely chopped/grated

1/2 cup fresh coriander leaves - chopped

2 small tomatoes - chopped

8-9 Curry leaves

2 Dry Red Chilli

1 tsp Mustard seeds (black)

1 tsp Cumin Seeds

1 tsp Turmeric Powder

1/2 tsp Chilli Powder 

4 Cloves

1/2 tsp Asfoetida Powder (available at Indian Grocers) For more info check Asfoetida Power

1 tbsp Ghee (clarified butter) or Vegetable/Canola oil

Salt to taste


Wash the soaked lentils and put them in a pressure cooker with 2 cups of water. (The ratio of lentils to water is 1:2) Also add a tsp of salt and 1/2 tsp of turmeric and the cloves to the lentils. Cook for 10 minutes till 3-4 whistles. (Cooking time depends on how long the lentils have been soaked) Once the dal is cooked remove from flame and let the pressure release from the cooker before you try to open it.

                                                               Toor Dal/Pigeon Peas



Asfoetida Powder

Curry Leaves, Dry Chillis, Cloves

Chopped Tomatoes

In a pan add a tbsp of ghee or vegetable oil. Add the mustard seeds, once they pop add the cumin seeds and dry red chillis. As they start to darken add the asfoetida and curry leaves immediately followed by the onions and ginger. Cook till the onion is translucent. Add the tomatoes, followed by salt, chilli powder and turmeric.Give it a good mix and cover the pan with a lid and cook on low-medium flame.

Let this cook for 10 minutes till all the spices are cooked off and the tomatoes are all softened. Now take the cooked dal and fish out the cloves, they would have accumulated on the top, and give it a good whisk so that the dal breaks up and forms a smooth liquid. 

Cooked Dal

Add this to the onion-tomato spicy mixture and half a cup of water. Add half the coriander leaves to the dal. Let it cook till it boils. Check seasoning, add salt if required. Garnish with the remaining coriander leaves. Serve with basmati rice and pappads.


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