Today we have another easy and everyday kind of dal recipe. Red lentils are lightly seasoned with the fragrant nigella and cooked with the cute little pearl onions.
We cook red lentils quite often; a few time a week. Lentils are an integral part of Indian cuisine, and some kind of Dal always accompanies an Indian meal, whether it be lunch or dinner.
The weather has warmed up, and the girls are home. This light and easy to cook dal with not many spices is what we have been having during the full sit down meal, especially during lunch time just like back home I would have during summer vacation. It is a quiet time soup, to be loved on a quiet hot afternoon, curtains drawn, all hushed up with only the sound of the doves gurgling outside.
As the Texas summer progresses, we are almost getting there where we have to pull down the shades during the afternoon, not also wanting to do much. Sometimes after the meal we just lay down together and read or sometimes later during the day we head over to the library just to get us moving and dust off the lazy in us. The calm of the library and the smell of books revives our souls
The authentic way to have Dal Chenchki is with roti/very light puffed flat breads. The dal is mellow and tender but kept whole; it is not soupy and the texture has a light bite instead of a mushed up feel. I make it differently at different times. It is just a matter of what we want and hence adjusting the amount of water/cooking time to get the desired texture.
Some days I would be too lazy to make any conversation, only looking forward to the food and then the afternoon nap, hoping deep inside that the power cut waits and the fan keeps moving while we sleep. So many years later, I want to find a connection; to tie up my past and present in various ways as if afraid that I will lose it all.
What I love best about this recipe are the sweet little pearl onions. Using pearl onions in cooking is not a very common thing in the typical Bengali cooking. But I have started using them for this recipe. The onions soften a little and brings down the the sharp edge as it simmers with the lentils.
There are different ways to cook the onions with the lentils. If you like them really soft and mushy, cook the lentils and the onions together longer. Or if you are like me (I like the onions still a bit on the crunchy side, but just softened), add them when the lentils are almost done. They cook pretty well in the heat and the steam.
The fresh lime/lemon and the sweet onions with the heat and flavor of the chili peppers and the mustard oil always reminds me of home. And we always used fresh lime or lemon with our meal during summer time. Now I see little T squeezing lemon all over her plate even before we start to eat.
Here you go, another of our basic and comfort recipes.
Dal Chenchki – Red Lentils with Pearl Onion
Ingredients: (serves 4 -6)
- 1.5 cup red lentils/masoor dal
- 1.5 cups pearl onions OR 1/2 cup chopped onion (you may use both the chopped onions and pearl onion – adjust amount to your taste)
- 1 teaspoon cooking oil + 1 tablespoon pure virgin mustard oil or ghee
- 1/2 teaspoon nigella/kalonji/kalo jeera
- 4 hot green chili peppers (remove seeds and membrane if you do not like the heat – the peppers are essential for the flavor)
- 1 tablespoon finely chopped garlic
- 4 cups water
- 1/2 teaspoon turmeric
- 1/2 teaspoon sugar (optional – used for the perfect balance of taste and will not make the soup sweet)
- salt to taste
- 1 small tomato, grated (about 1/4 cup)
- fresh cilantro/coriander to garnish
- fresh lime/lemon juice before serving
I should mention here, as I have done before, that the traditional Dal Chenchki is on the dry side, with not much sauce/liquid left to it. But the way I make it, the dish comes out like a thick soup, not very runny yet not completely dried out. So please adjust the cooking time and the amount of water to how you want it. If you want it dry, at the end of the cooking, open the lid and cook at high heat while stirring frequently to prevent sticking at the bottom of the pan until the water is evaporated. If you want it soupy, add more water (when you add the water before it is set to simmer) as per your need.
* When I make this recipe, I reserve the pearl onions to be added when the lentils are almost done. This way the onions are slightly cooked, but still holds the color and the crunch. This specially tastes good, if the lentils are dried out a bit and not too soupy. If you want your onions tender and cooked through, add them right after you cook the spices and add the garlic and chili pepper.
Soak lentils in water for about 15 minutes. Drain and wash lentils in several changes of water until the water runs clear. Drain completely. Spread the washed lentils on a plate in one layer and leave it for the water to dry up. I usually keep it for about 15 minutes.
Heat one teaspoon oil. Gently crush the nigella between your palms and add it to the oil. When they sizzle, add the slit chili peppers, the chopped onions (if you are using chopped onions and not the pearl onions) and the garlic and toss and stir them in low heat for the oil and spices to coat them for about half a minutes. Add the lentils, salt and turmeric and toss them well for everything to be coated and mixed well – about a minute.
Add the tomato, water and sugar and stir everything in. Cover with a tight lid and allow to cook until the red lentils are almost done. Add the pearl onions and stir them in. Cook until the lentils are cooked through but still whole holding their shape well. It is done when it mashes between finger and thumb. Add the mustard oil/ghee, fresh cilantro/coriander and stir it in.
Serve hot with a drizzle of lemon juice.
Cooking Time: 20-30 minutes
Difficulty Level: Easy
Serves: 4 – 6 as a side