This daal recipe has been a work in progress. I have a notebook scribbled with my Mother’s recipes sitting in the kitchen drawer, ones I started collecting during the last summer before my wedding. I was confident when I left home that Conor and I wouldn’t starve to death, or live off take out. In the first few weeks as newlyweds, with me trying to adjust to an electric hob, and Conor adjusting to living with a woman (he comes from an all-male family), we were optimistic. I bought spices from the local grocery store; things I’d seen in my Mother’s kitchen but had never been able to pronounce the name of, and after our (first) trip to Ikea came home with several jars to put them all in. Conor wrote the names of each one onto sticky labels to go across each jar, avoiding a disaster just waiting to happen on account of so many of them looking so similar. I couldn’t get going straight away though because we moved in without a single kitchen appliance or utensil to our names. It took a few days to buy the necessities like pots and pan, and for a while I was chopping with a butter knife, whilst Conor tried to get into a can of tuna with a hammer.
Within the first 2 weeks of moving in we were ready, prioritising the kitchen over every other room in the flat because we had to eat. The bean bags and lack of wifi would have to wait. With my sleeves rolled up, and eyes glued to my Mother’s recipes, I got to work. At this point I should stop and mention my Mother does not rely on conventional units of measurements, choosing to instead go with gut feelings and intuition. Something she’s clearly nurtured through years of practice. My choice to guesstimate her gut (a teaspoon of this, and that … that looks like a tablespoon and 3/8ths), left me questioning every measurement I’d written down. Did I really see her add half a teaspoon of turmeric? Maybe it was a tablespoon? I should have taken pictures. (Although she probably would have held up a finger instead of a spoon, if I suggested that.)
How is it possible for a curry to taste so dull and bland when it contains 6 different spices? No matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t get the curry dishes to taste like home. The trick, so I’m told, is to get the balance just right.
Conor would eat whatever curry I had ruined each night, without much complain, mostly to be kind to me, but also because he was hungry. After a few episodes of trial and error, I abandoned all efforts and avoided any dishes even slightly resembling a curry. When I hosted dinner for my family I chose to make the one curry I knew worked (I made this one several times with Mum before leaving home), and had a restaurant prepare the rest of the meal.
We visit my parents regularly, and often Mum won’t let me leave empty handed. She’ll fill tupperware with my favourites I know we’ll enjoy the next night (because whilst I may be crap at curry, I can still manage fluffy rice and work a microwave). I’ve never felt enthusiastic about curry. I mean, I like it as much as the next person, but I’ve never gotten cravings before. But since leaving home, and having zero (delicious) curry to eat, I’ve found myself wanting to be able to eat curry when I want, not just when I go to my parents. And I want to be able to get it right. I suppose it’s this realisation, that after months of a curry cooking hiatus, that I suddenly decided to take on the challenge again. For the past few weekeneds, Conor has been coming home from work to a house that smells heavily of cumin and coriander. While a few of the attempts have been hit and miss, most have slowly worked their way up to “successful”.
This red lentil curry (or Daal) recipe, is the first since posting a curry last April, and I have a few more in the pipeline to share. It’s warm, hearty, and flavoursome. Choose your own desired accompaniment – we went with both rice and naan bread.
- 2 tbsp unsalted butter or ghee
- 1 large onion, diced
- 2 green chillies
- 1 tbsp curry powder
- 1 tsp ground coriander
- 1 tsp ground turmeric
- 1½ cups red lentils, washed and rinsed
- 4-5 cups boiling water
- salt and pepper
- 5 cloves garlic, diced
- Melt the butter or ghee over a medium heat. Add the onions and cook until softened.
- Add the chillies, curry powder, ground coriander, and turmeric and stir to combine everything together.
- Add the red lentils and stir until they are coated with the spices.
- Add boiling water to cover the mixture and bring to a boil. Then lower the heat and simmer for 25 minutes, leaving the lid half open. Stir occassionally. Once cooked, take off the heat and use a hand blender to create a smooth mixture.
- Fry the garlic in olive oil in a separate pan over high heat until browned. Add to the curry mixture and stir.
- Optional: garnish with coriander
- Serve with rice or naan