I’ve been tweaking this recipe for months, and I think it’s right now. I actually wanted to eat it twice yesterday (this is after eating two servings at lunch), and I was only dissuaded by the fact that there was pizza on the counter when I got home. Otherwise, it would have been a double dal day.

These stewed lentils go great with lime fenugreek salad (a dish I made up specifically to complement them). But yesterday I ate them pretty simply, with basmati rice, a spoonful of greek yogurt, and some chopped cilantro. Stirred up a bit–not to the point of homogeneity, but so that you get mini-zones of plain, tart, and aromatic.

Like most stews this one is better the next day, but I ate it yesterday after just 20 minutes of stewing and it was as addictive as ever. And that’s one of this recipe’s major draws–it takes almost no time to prepare. The recipe is also very forgiving. I’ve made it when I had no tomato or chiles and it bounced back (with the help of a little tomato paste and cayenne). I’ve used up my first bag of chana dal and replaced it with moong dal–I think you can use whatever lentils you like. The moong dal are a little smaller, and they hold their shape better than you’d expect.

Chana Dal Masala
adapted from Hooked on Heat
serves 4 as a main dish, more as a side

The changes I’ve made to the recipe are all in the name of simplification. By all means, if you have a pressure cooker look at the original recipe. I don’t. I upped the fresh chiles and eliminated the red chile powder–the only spice I have of that description is cayenne, which is not what is intended, I think.

1 T mild cooking oil
1/2 t fennel seeds
1/2 t cumin seeds
1 medium onion, chopped
2 serrano chiles
2 cloves of garlic
hunk of ginger, about the size of your thumb (around 2 t chopped)
1/4 t tumeric
1 t ground coriander
1 tomato, chopped (romas are about the right size and texture)
1 C lentils
1/2 t kosher salt
chopped cilantro, for garnish

If you have a mortar and pestle, smash the cumin and fennel seeds a bit. If you don’t, just skip this step.

In a medium saucepan, heat the oil over med-high heat. Add the cumin and fennel seeds, frying them for 30 seconds or so. Add the chopped onion and a pinch of salt. Saute for a few minutes, until the onions start to brown and become translucent.

Meanwhile, in a food processor finely chop the ginger, garlic, and chiles (you can do them all at the same time). Add them to the onions and saute for a minute (if the garlic starts to brown, move onto the next step sooner). Stir in the tumeric and ground coriander, then the chopped tomato. Cook for another minute, until the tomato begins to release some of its water.

Stir in the lentils and salt and add enough water to cover. Raise the heat to high and bring the lentils to a boil. Then reduce the heat to low and simmer for 20-25 minutes, covered partially with a lid. In my experience the lentils are done but still toothsome after 20 minutes. Serve over basmati rice with yogurt and chopped cilantro.