Last Winter Mike and I spent some time in London. It’s one of my favorite cities – full of fun cafes, quirky shopping, a blend of old and new architecture, and of course, food. London is well known for their Indian food scene and even though I’ve been to London four times, the last was the first time I tried out Dishoom, a Irani-style Bombay inspired cafe. They serve a modern take on Indian food and it is absolutely delicious.
One of the reasons why it took so long to make it there is the fact that they have notoriously long lines and no reservations. One day though, we decided to just go for it. We spent about an hour waiting outside under some heaters, complimentary hot chai in hand, peering in at diners, dreaming about what we were going to order.
In some cases, when you build up a restaurant in your head you end up disappointed. It might be the service, it might be the atmosphere, and sometimes, it’s even the food. Thankfully, that wasn’t the case at Dishoom. It was so nice that Mike and I ended up going twice. We even ended up ordering some of the same dishes, we were that in love.
One of them was the black dal. To be honest, I wasn’t initially interested in the dal, even though the menu was trying really hard to sell it. It’s Dishoom’s house special and each batch cooks for over 24 hours. I noticed it, but with so many other delicious things to order, it just didn’t jump out at me. Thankfully the server told us it was a must; she was right. It was deep and dark, the lentils were the perfect falling apart, yet still holding together texture – tiny bursts of flavor that exploded into deliciousness with just a touch of pressure.
I kept telling Mike, as I used garlicky naan to scoop up bit after bit, I have to figure out how to make this at home. It was easier said than done though. Dishoom’s black dal is their closely guarded secret and intense Google searches revealed nothing. Eventually, I went with a modified version of this recipe, adapting the spices a bit and upping the cooking time infinitely. I know 24 hours is a LOT, but it’s entirely hands off – a covered pot just sits in an extremely low oven – and the result is incredible.
This was my first time making dal, but it won’t be my last. Especially since I just went ahead and bought an extra large bag of lentils. This dal is filling, hearty, luxurious, and best of all, full of protein. You could leave out the butter and cream for a vegan version, but I think they add just that extra bit of oomph that I tasted in Dishoom’s version.
One last thing: I’m sure you’ve heard by now that 2016 is the International Year of Pulses! Some of my favorites are: chickpeas, lentils (like the ones in this post), dried peas, and beans. When you cook them properly, they have the absolutely best texture. I always have pulses in my pantry (right now I have adzuki beans, chickpeas, split peas, great Northern beans, and mung bean threads), which makes it easy to eat them once a week. I hope you’ll try to as well and take the Pulse Pledge with me!
Black Dal Recipe adapted from The Tiffin Box
makes about 4.5 cups dal
This isn’t a quick recipe, but the hands-off time is completely chill and the end result is absolutely amazing. Slow cooking in the oven adds a bit of smokiness that you wouldn’t otherwise get on the stove. Make sure you use a heavy bottomed cooking vessel with an oven safe lid. I used a petite Staub and the depth worked perfectly. You don’t want too large of a pot because the dal will be too shallow, which could potentially lead to burning/drying out.
- 1 cup black lentils (I used black beluga lentils)
- 2 whole cloves
- 1 star anise
- 1 teaspoon ground coriander
- 1 teaspoon ground cumin
- 1/2 teaspoon cayenne
- 1/2 teaspoon fennel seeds
- 1/2 teaspoon garam masala
- 1/4 teaspoon ground cardamom
- 1 tablespoon butter
- 1 tablespoon oil
- 1 small onion, finely diced
- 1 tablespoon minced ginger
- 1 tablespoon minced garlic
- 1 bay leaf
- 1 cinnamon stick
- 5.5 ounce can tomato paste
- 2 tablespoon butter
- 2 tablespoons heavy cream
- salt, to taste
- cilantro and yogurt, to garnish
Soak the lentils in plenty of cold water overnight. The next day, rinse and drain well. Place in a large pot and cover with cold water. Bring to a hard boil for 5-10 minutes, skimming if needed. Reduce the heat and simmer, stirring occasionally, until lentils are very soft but still hold their shape, about 40 minutes to 1 hour. If needed, top the pot up with water. Drain and set aside.
Preheat the oven to 325°F.
In a dry pan, lightly toast the cloves, star anise, coriander, cumin, cayenne, fennel, garam masala, and cardamom, stirring constantly until fragrant, about 30 – 45 seconds. Remove from heat and grind in a spice grinder or crush with a mortar and pestle and set aside.
In a oven safe heavy bottom pot, heat the butter and oil over medium heat. Add the onion and cook until soft, 5-8 minutes. Add the ginger and garlic and cook, stirring, for 1-2 minutes. Stir in the spices, cinnamon stick, and bay leaf.
Stir in the tomato paste and add up to 1 cup of water to bring the whole thing to a thick, soup-like consistency. Add the lentils back in, adding a bit of water, if needed.
Tightly cover with foil or an oven safe lid and cook for 3-4 hours checking every 30 minutes or so, adding water if needed to maintain a soup like texture. If you’re committed and want to cook your dal for 24 hours, turn the oven to 200°F overnight and then up the temperature to 300°F when you get up in the morning. Give it a good stir and let it cook, at 300°F until you hit 24 hours.
Remove from the oven and stir in the cream and butter. Taste and season with salt. Enjoy with rice or naan!
Garlic Naan Bread Recipe via Indian Simmer
makes 4 naan breads
- 1/4 cup milk
- 1/4 cup yogurt
- 1 cup all purpose flour
- 1/4 + 1/8 tsp baking powder
- 1/4 tsp baking soda
- 1/4 teaspoon sugar
- 1/8 tsp salt
- melted garlic butter* and chopped cilantro, to serve
In a small bowl, whisk together the milk and yogurt. Set aside.
Mix the dry ingredients together in a bowl or on a clean work surface. Make a well and slowly add in the milk-yogurt mix bit by bit, combining with the flour. Knead into a soft dough. Gather into ball and cover 2 hours.
Lightly dust your work surface with flour. Divide the dough into 4 equal pieces and use a rolling pin to flatten and stretch out. Heat up a heavy bottomed cast iron skillet (with a lid) over high heat. Brush one side of the naan with water and place in the skillet, water side down. Cover and cook for 30 seconds or until you see it start to bubble and rise. Use a pair of tongs and take it off the pan and cook the uncooked side over direct flames until it starts to char. Alternatively, flip and cook the pan until it starts to brown. Brush with a bit of melted butter and sprinkle on chopped cilantro. Repeat with the remaining 3 pieces.
Note: I made the melted garlic butter by heating up about 2 tablespoons of butter and 3 cloves of minced garlic over very low heat until the garlic was cooked through but not brown.