Easy chana dal tadka
The 1st rule of Vegan Club: Vegans love chickpeas! Falafels, hummus, aquafaba, chickpea flour, Burmese tofu… the list is long. That said, I’m not so sure how many people think about chickpeas when they think about Indian dal.
More often than not you’ll see the word dal translated as “lentils”. However, dal really means “split”. As you can imagine, a whole lot of the things can be “split” – lentils, peas, mung beans, chickpeas – you name it. I like lentils, but the 2nd rule of Vegan Club: Vegans love chickpeas! If you live in England, getting your hands on some chana (Hindi for chickpea) dal is probably pretty straight forward. If you live in the US, head to Whole Foods and you should be good to go. If like me, you live in a non-English speaking country, you need to find yourself an ethnic supermarket and be prepared to be confused by package labels that are anything but clear!
I have a favorite shop that specializes in Middle Eastern food, but carries all kinds of fresh and packaged stuff from India, Africa, and all over Asia. When you’re in Sweden, and you go to a Middle Eastern market, I can promise you that not much is labeled in English! I speak Swedish, that’s not the problem, the problem is that half the labels are written in who knows what language, and the other half are translated incorrectly. Yeah, that’s right, pretty much everything was translated as lentils.
Approaching a smiling shop assistant I tell him, in Swedish, that I’m looking for split chickpeas – and ask about the packages labeled lentils. His reply, “Some of them are chickpeas and some aren’t.” That was it, haha! For real! Another shopper hears me and tells me that “these are all the same”, waving his hands at a 10 foot row of lentils stacked 5 shelves high, and persuades me to buy the cheapest.
Turns out I bought a big, albeit insanely cheap, bag of yellow split peas. While these things look JUST like split chickpeas, they’re not. (See rules #1 and #2 above.) So out I went again, until I found a bag clearly labeled “chana dal”, translated into about 10 other languages, but not English! I’m wondering if the packagers think “chana dal” is English?!
I really have to tell you another little fun story about Indian food terms (that has nothing to do with dal!) When I lived in England, one of my brothers came to visit me and we went out to an Indian restaurant. At the time I knew very little about Indian cuisine, so when I saw something called “mushroom bhaji” I asked the waiter what it was. His reply “Mushroom, mushroom, mushroom – you know mushroom?” and then rubbing his thumb and forefinger together in a sprinkling motion, “Bhaji”. He walked away, pleased with this answer, and my brother looked at me laughing and said, “Uh, mushroom wasn’t the hard part!”
While words like dal and bhaji maybe be confusing for some, cooking Indian food does not have to be complicated. Sure, you need to cook this for a while, but it’s easy and stress free. Not only is there no need to stir the dal, you should actually NOT stir it. That’s the secret – don’t mess with the cooking dal. Tadka simply means the tempering of a dish, with an infusion of spices, adding a flavor that the base ingredients don’t have on their own. This step is also easy, and its quick, too. So there you have it, easy chana dal tadka. And remember the first two rules of being vegan: Vegans love chickpeas!
- 6 cups (1.4 l) - water
- 1½ cups (3.6 dl) - chana dal (split chickpeas)
- 2 Tbsp (30 ml) - fresh grated ginger
- 1½ tsp (7.5 ml) - ground turmeric
- 1½ tsp (7.5 ml) - salt
- oil for frying
- 1½ Tbsp (22.5 ml) - whole cumin seeds
- 1 oninon, chopped
- 2 cloves of garlic
- 4 medium sized tomatoes, chopped
- 2 green chilli peppers, finely chopped
- rice - optional
- Rinse the dal well, add it along with the water to a large pot, and bring to a boil. Add the ginger, partially cover, lower the heat and cook for about 45 minutes.
- If serving with rice, start cooking the rice after about 20 minutes.
- With 10-15 minutes remaining before the dal is ready, its time to for the tadka. Pour some oil into a frying pan, covering the bottom and turn the heat to medium high. When the oil is hot add the whole cumin seeds and stir constantrly for about 30 seconds to 1 minute.
- Next add the chopped onions and cook for about 5 minutes or until they start to get soft. Then add the garlic and chilli peppers, cook for a couple minutes and finally add the tomatoes.
- At this point the dal should have cooked for 45 minutes. Remove from the heat and add the salt. Then, using either a wand mixer or a potato masher, mix/mash until the dal is semi-smooh. (For me, the consistency is a matter of taste. I usually use a mixing wand, zap the dal 3 or 4 times for just a few seconds.)
- Pour the tadka mixture into the dal and stir gently, to evenly spread the tadka throughout the dal. Top with chopped fresh cilantro and serve with rice and vegan naan bread.