Dal is our comfort food in Nepal, and a cheap source of protein. You will find as many different recipes as there are households,” says Santosh Shah.
For an interesting texture, Shah purees half the chana dal and keeps the rest whole. “What gives each dal its personality – apart from the type of lentils used – is the tempering,” he says. “It is important to cook the onions until well caramelised, as this will give the dal an extra layer of flavour.”
Chana ko dal – spicy chickpeas
280g chana dal (split Bengal gram)
½ tsp ground turmeric
2-3 whole fresh green chillies, tailed and slit lengthways
2.5cm piece of cinnamon stick
2-3 green cardamoms, lightly crushed
2 tejpaat (Nepali bay leaves)
1 tsp salt
1 tbsp fresh coriander leaves, chopped
For the tempering:
2 tbsp ghee or vegetable oil
2-3 dried red chillies, depending on size or to taste
1 tsp cumin seeds
2 red onions, finely chopped
15g fresh ginger, peeled and finely chopped
1 tomato, chopped
1 tsp sakahar barha masala (vegetable garam masala, see below)
For the Sakahar barha masala:
For the whole spices:
1 tbsp dried garlic flakes
5 dried red chillies, crushed
2 tsp cumin seeds
2 tbsp coriander seeds
1¼ tsp black mustard seeds
1 tsp fenugreek seeds
1 tsp timmur peppercorns, or Sichuan peppercorns
2 tsp black peppercorns
4 black cardamoms
5 tejpaat (Nepali bay leaves), crushed
For the ground spices:
1 tbsp ground ginger
1 tsp turmeric
1 tsp hing (asafoetida)
Bhat (plain rice)
Puri (fried puffed bread)
1. Make the Sakahar barha masala: heat a non-stick frying pan. Add all the whole spices and dry roast over a medium heat until they colour, puff up and start releasing their aroma. Transfer to a plate and leave to cool. Using a spice grinder or coffee grinder, grind the toasted and cooled whole spices in batches until finely powdered. Mix in the ground spices until well blended. Transfer to a screw top jar or other airtight container. For best results, use any leftover spice mix within two weeks.
2. Wash the chana dal under running water and soak them for 30-60 minutes in lukewarm water.
3. In a medium heavy-based saucepan, combine the drained chana dal, turmeric, fresh green chillies, whole spices and salt. Cover with 1.4 liters of water and bring to the boil.
4. Lower the heat and simmer, uncovered, for 45-60 minutes, until the dal is cooked through, and the liquid has reduced. Drain half of the dal and place in a blender with some of the cooking liquid. Process to a purée and pour back into the bread. Stir until well blended. The dal should have the consistency of a thick soup. Keep the dal hot.
5. Make the tempering. Heat the ghee or oil in a non-stick frying pan, add the dried red chillies and cumin seeds.
6. When the seeds start to crackle, add the onions and cook for 12-15 minutes, stirring occasionally, until caramelised. Stir in the ginger and tomato. Cook for two minutes, until the tomato is soft. Add the vegetable garam masala, stir well and leave to simmer for 30 seconds.
7. Pour the whole tempering mixture into the simmering dal, add the chopped coriander and stir until well mixed. Simmer for three to four minutes, to allow the flavors to infuse.
8. Check and adjust the seasoning to taste, adding more salt if needed, and serve hot with rice and puri.
‘Ayla: A Feast Of Nepali Dishes From Terai, Hills And The Himalayas’ by Santosh Shah (published by DK, £20), available now.
George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.