(From left, yellow split mung, green mung, black urad dal, split urad dal. Red lentils in the jar on top.)
I borrowed a book called Cornucopia: The Cook Book from the public library when I was in my final year at university. It was a collection of recipes from a vegetarian restaurant in Dublin. I renewed it fortnightly and cooked my way through it. I remember making lots of soup, using my cheap, slightly useless blender stick.
I started making dal more regularly when I lived at home as a postgrad student. My dad insisted that we ate pulses with every meal and developing a wider dal repertoire seemed to be a good way of keeping us both happy. I made mung dal, sambar and red lentil dal. A family friend who ran a food stall (this was before street food was cool, I’ll have you know) gave us a jar of her secret spice blend. I have no idea what was in it, but it made a good dal.
I once had a peculiar conversation with a man who wittered on about how lentils could never taste as good as meat, operating on the crass assumption that vegetarian cooking involves swapping one for the other. The supermodel Kate Moss famously got drunk on an Easyjet flight and called the pilot a ‘basic bitch’. I was very tempted to call this fellow a basic bitch for his crude swap-based approach for cooking. I will however accept crude swap-based cuisine if it it involves paneer.
Dal is part of a meal; it goes on top of rice and accompanies curry or subji. Rice and dal together handily form a complete protein. You can use umpteen different types of lentils to make dal but I generally use a split variety as they cook quickly. Red lentils are widely available in any supermarket. I like yellow split mung and stock up at my local Asian grocer’s. Beware yellow chana dal. It’s quite big as split lentils go and takes forever to cook, even when you soak it and I’m not a huge fan of it’s al dente texture.