I’m excited to write my first post by request.
“I can’t get dal quite right,” my friend Nandini said one recent afternoon, as we shared a lunch of veggie burgers and salad. My eyes widened. I think I mumbled something about the magic of the pressure cooker. She said something about its scary whistle.
It has taken me years to get dal right—that deceptively simple staple in every north Indian household. I wholeheartedly agree that pressure cookers are kind of scary. But after having bought one and using it regularly, I can tell you that it is totally worth it and only a little scary, and that too, only in the beginning. Don’t let this baby intimidate you. You get used to the whistling sound pretty quickly, and then it stops being quite so alarming. Pressure cookers, in my humble view, are one of the best kitchen gadgets a person can own. Mine is similar to this one, which has an easy button that you slide down to click it open or closed, with two settings (1 and 2—I always use 1, the lower setting). Also, as I have learned from many-a- Top-Chef episode, pressure cookers are fantastic for braising meats, so definitely a worthwhile investment. Best of all, the pressure cooker enables your dal to be ready in a mere thirty minutes total, including prep time. It takes 5 minutes to chop up your ingredients and another 5 to sauté them, put the lid on and let your dal cook for twenty minutes and voila!
After years of frustration , I promise that you will not be able to replicate the creaminess of a pressurized dal using an ordinary pot. The pressure simply breaks down the lentils so that the entire mixture is smooth and the dal and water have literally become one. There are few things better in life than some steaming rice soaking up creamy dal, with a side of lemon or mango pickle. Heaven.
PS—The secret of my dal recipe is the squeeze of lemon at the end. Lemon with Indian food is a must; it really brings out the flavors. This will make a great soup for lunch, or served on top of rice makes a truly complete meal.
Prep time: 30 minutes
1 tbsp. vegetable oil
1 dried red chili
1 tsp. cumin seeds
1 medium yellow/red onion, finely chopped
1 tbsp. ginger-garlic paste (or 1” fresh ginger and about 3 cloves garlic, finely chopped)
1 roma tomato, chopped
1 cup red lentils
1 tsp. turmeric powder
1 tsp. coriander powder
1 tsp. red chili powder (optional)
8 cups of warm water
1 tsp. salt
Squeeze of lemon
Cilantro, for garnish
- Heat 1 tbsp. oil in the pressure cooker on medium heat. When the oil is hot, swirl it in the pot and add the red chili and cumin seeds. When the cumin seeds start to sizzle, add in the chopped onion (The onions will start to brown the bottom of the pressure cooker – don’t worry – this will be deglazed once you pour in the warm water.)
- Add a pinch of salt to the onions and sauté until brown, about 3 minutes. Add in the garlic, ginger, and chopped tomato. Saute for another minute.
- Add in the red lentils and water and gently stir everything together.
- Add the turmeric powder, salt, coriander powder, and red chili powder, if using. Mix everything together.
- Put the pressure cooker lid on. Your stove should be on medium heat and you should use the lower pressure cooker setting. If you don’t have multiple settings on your pressure cooker, just time the whistles. Once the whistle goes off, cook the dal for 15-20 minutes.
- Remove the lid, squeeze in some lemon. Taste for salt. Garnish with cilantro and serve!