French Bengali Dal

Visiting my mum in France this summer, I watched a Bengali friend of my hers make some dal. I wrote down what she used but this is not a precise recipe. She used local French brown lentils but said she would have preferred to use mung. (I feel I’m stuck in a bit of a yellow split mung rut when it comes to dal so it was good to have some inspiration to use the brown lentils I have sitting in the cupboard.) She also made the chaunk with ghee but you could use oil if you prefer. The dal had a smoky flavour which I wasn’t sure if I could recreate but mine did have a hint of smokiness, despite the high smoking point of ghee. I think it might have been frying the cardamom pods and cloves as part of the chaunk but I’m not sure. The most interesting thing about this dal was that the tomatoes and fresh coriander were added to the chaunk and cooked with the rest of the dal. You can boil the dal then add it to the pot containing the chaunk but I usually just use one pot to save on washing up. This should be quite hot but you can add as much or as little chili as you see fit.


A tablespoon of ghee or oil

1 generous teaspoon cumin seeds

1/2 teaspoon hing

3 cardamom pods

A thumb sized piece of fresh root ginger

Ten cherry tomatoes or one regular sized tomato

One bunch of fresh coriander

One piece of cinnamon bark

2 cloves

1/2 teaspoon turmeric

1 bay leaf

1 or 2 green chilis

A third of a sieve of brown lentils

1/2 teaspoon salt

  1. Wash the dal and leave it to drain while you boil the kettle. As the kettle boils, grate the ginger and chop the tomatoes , chili(es) and fresh coriander. Heat the ghee/oil in a 1-2 litre saucepan and add the cumin seeds. Once they start to crackle, add the grated ginger, stirring to stop it sticking. Add the turmeric, hing, cardamom pods and cloves and fry briefly before adding the cinnamon stick, tomatoes, fresh coriander, the chili(es) and the bay leaf.
  2. Add the dal and hot water and stir. Leave to cook over a medium heat with the lid on the saucepan on. Lift the lid and/or turn the heat down if it starts to boil over. It should need 30 minutes to an hour to cook. I like to leave dal to cook for a while, until the lentils start to fall apart and thicken.