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This recipe for yellow dal is the simplest recipe I could create for you, while still keeping it authentic.
I am calling for moong dal, which is available at my local Whole Foods store, and some conventional grocers. If you cannot purchase it from your regular store, you will be able to find it online, or at an Indian store near you.
According to Ayurvedic tradition, moong dal is the most digestible of all legumes, and it is suitable for all doshas.
If you cannot find moong dal, you can substitute with toor dal, chana dal (split), yellow lentils, red lentils, or even yellow split peas, but be aware that the cooking time and consistency will change.
For more information, and a guide to Indian pulses, visit my food blog.
The spices you’ll need for this recipe are cumin seeds, fresh ginger, turmeric powder, and red chili powder. Red chili is what they call Indian chili powder, but you could also substitute with cayenne pepper is this is what you have in your pantry to start.
The rest of the flavor comes from fresh cilantro leaves and freshly squeezed lemon.
This combination of flavors is perfectly balanced, and it includes all Six Tastes of Ayurveda: sweet, sour, salty, bitter, pungent, and astringent.
If you make this comforting yellow dal, and it doesn’t taste right to you, follow these three steps, and adjust the flavors accordingly:
- Is there enough salt?
- Would it be okay if I added another pinch of red chili?
- Is the lemon flavor in the background, but can I still taste it?
I have also included instructions to cook yellow dal in an Instant Pot, in a stovetop pressure cooker, and in a regular saucepan.
Making this dal has three main steps.
- The first step is to cook the moong dal until it is very soft and falling apart.
- The second step is to sauté the spices in ghee. You will need a tiny skillet or pot to prepare the spices efficiently. The trouble with trying to do this step in something larger is that you won’t have enough fat concentrated in one place to drown the spices in, and the spices need to stay in the fat to cook properly. Be careful when preparing the spices. Use low heat, pay close attention, and stir continuously.
- The third step is finishing and balancing the flavor, which I described above.
For cooking the dal
for the spice tempering
- 1 tablespoon ghee (sub with half olive oil, half butter)
- 1/2 teaspoon cumin seeds
- 1 teaspoon fresh ginger minced
- 1/2 teaspoon turmeric powder
- pinch red chili powder (sub with cayenne pepper)
to finish the flavors
- 1/2 teaspoon Himalayan pink salt or more to taste
- 1 teaspoon lemon freshly squeezed
- 2 tablespoons cilantro finely chopped
Prepare the dal
- If you have time, soak the moong dal in cold water for 4 hours or more. Rinse moong dal in cold water 4–5 times until the water runs clear. Add to pressure cooker or saucepan along with water, a pinch of turmeric powder, and a pinch of salt.
Choose one of the following cooking methods
- Instant Pot: Reduce the amount of water to 1 3/4 cup. Ensure the steam valve is on “Sealing,” and set the timer to cook on High Pressure for 10 minutes. Allow the pressure to come down naturally for 15 minutes. After that, force release any remaining pressure by carefully opening the steam valve to “Venting.” Open the lid and remove it.
- Stovetop pressure cooker: Use high heat to bring the pressure up to high (when you hear the first whistle), then reduce the heat slightly. Cook under pressure for 6 minutes. Allow the pressure to come down naturally for 10 minutes, then open the lid safely.
- Saucepan method: Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer for 35 minutes, or until the dal becomes very soft and starts breaking apart. Add more water if necessary so that the dal remains covered.
Make the spice tempering with ghee
- Heat ghee in a small skillet on medium-low heat. Add cumin seeds, and sauté until the cumin seeds turn a few shades darker.
- Add the ginger. Continue to sauté gently, and on low heat, stirring continuously, until the ginger just starts to brown.
- Add the turmeric powder and red chili, and stir for a few seconds to release the aroma. Turn off the heat.
Finish the flavors
- Pour the tempered spices and ghee over the cooked dal, and add salt. Stir well, bring back up to a boil, and simmer for 2-3 minutes to combine the flavors and cook the salt. Add the fresh lemon. Taste, and adjust for salt, red chili, and lemon. Add more if you need to balance the flavors. Stir in the cilantro. Turn off the heat and enjoy.
- For a complete meal, serve with basmati rice, and a cooked vegetable. You could either spoon the dal on top of the rice, or mix the rice and dal together to create the dish known as “dal rice.” For exceptional taste, add a dab of ghee on top of the dal just before serving.