Dhal has to be one of my favourite dishes ever. It has all those beautiful Indian spices and flavours, but is typically mild, making it a great family-friendly meal. It’s also really easy to prepare and low cost too. We often serve it as a mid-week meal, then I enjoy the leftovers for my lunches.
I never get tired of dhal as it can be made in so many ways, using different spice blends, lentils and liquids for a myriad of flavours and textures. My ‘go to’ dhal recipe is this Coconut Dhal with Butternut Squash, which we’ve been making for many years now, but I’m always on the look out for new recipes to try.
When I was browsing this month’s Vegan Life magazine, one recipe that instantly caught my eye was Kimberly Parson’s One Pot Masala Dhal. The principal spice in the curry paste is Smoked Paprika, which I absolutely adore. Combined with tomatoes, red lentils and creamy coconut milk, I could just imagine how amazing this dish was going to taste.
Since all the ingredients are staples in my pantry, I immediately set to work creating it. I did tweak the recipe a little (I halved the amount of fat and coconut milk used and reduced the amount of heat in the curry paste), but nevertheless it tasted absolutely delicious! It got a big thumbs up from the boys and I know this recipe will now be in regular rotation in our house.
To make the dish, you first make the masala curry paste. This simply involves throwing the ingredients in a mini food processor and whizzing to a smooth paste.
The paste is added to all the remaining dhal ingredients except the spinach, and cooked until the lentils have softened. As a last step, the spinach is folded in.
Ladle into bowls, sprinkle with toasted sesame seeds and it’s ready to serve.
We love to serve our dhal with flatbreads (either home-made chapattis or shop-bought seeded flour tortillas), brown rice, or a mixture of the two!
Hands on time: 30 minutes Ready in: 45 minutes
1 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp ground coriander seeds
2 cm / ¾ inch piece of fresh ginger (17g), finely grated
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 TBSP smoked paprika
1 tsp garam masala
½ tsp chilli powder (use mild for children)
½ tsp salt
2 TBSP tomato purée (paste)
Small bunch of coriander (cilantro) (30g), leaves only
2 TBSP water
1 TBSP coconut oil (or oil of choice)
1 onion (150g), finely diced
400g / 14 oz can chopped tomatoes
400g / 14 oz can full fat coconut milk
180g / 1 cup red lentils, washed and drained
100g / 2 packed cups spinach leaves, roughly chopped
Sprinkling of toasted sesame seeds, for garnish
To make the masala paste, place all in the ingredients in a mini food processor and whizz into a smooth paste (I use the bowl attachment that came with my hand blender). Stop now and then to scrape down the sides. Add a splash more water, if needed, to get things moving.
To make the dhal, gently heat the oil in a large, heavy-bottomed pan. Add the onions and cook on medium heat for 4 minutes. Add the masala paste and cook for a further minute or so, stirring regularly. Add the chopped tomatoes and coconut milk and stir through to combine.
To wash the lentils, place them in a fine mesh sieve and agitate with your hand under running cold water, until the water runs clear. Check for any discoloured lentils or debris and discard.
Add the washed lentils to the pan. Bring to the boil then reduce the heat and simmer uncovered for 20 minutes, or until the lentils are soft. Stir now and then. Check the liquid levels towards the end of the cooking time and add a splash more water, stock or coconut milk, if needed (we like our dhals quite thick, so you may want to add more liquid if you prefer yours ‘soupy’). Taste test, and adjust the seasoning if needed. Remove from the heat and fold in the spinach.
Serve in bowls with a sprinkling of toasted sesame seeds for garnish. This dish is delicious served with flatbreads (chapattis or seeded flour tortillas), brown rice or both!
The dhal will keep for up to five days, stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator.
I find that the flavours of home-ground cumin and coriander seeds tend to be far superior to the shop-bought versions. To grind your own seeds, first toast them in a dry frying pan (skillet) on medium heat, stirring continuously until they become fragrant and just to start to brown. Immediately tip them onto a plate, leave to cool then grind to a powder, using a coffee/spice grinder or mortar and pestle. Stored in an airtight jar in a cool place, they will keep for months.
I find Smoked Paprika can vary immensely in terms of flavour, so whenever possible, choose a good quality brand. I buy mine from the self-service jars in my local health food store or Suma-branded packs (available in independent health food stores).