When you talk about comfort food in Pakistan, people always bring up daal. They however, are mostly talking about peeli daal (yellow lentils).
I would have peeli daal for every meal when I was a broke graduate student. In DC, I would make it every time I came back from work late. My husband would insist on having it as a complement to every meal we cooked. And because daal is such a generous, abundant dish, it would inevitably make its way to my lunchbox at work.
And so I grew to hate it.
It's a controversial position, I know. But when you have had it nearly three (four or five) times a week for the past eight years of your life, you're bound to grow tired (read: sick, sick) of it.
And so I decided to bring kaalee daal back. It was a lunch staple in my home in Islamabad but is often overlooked as a "dish to learn" when you move away.
It takes longer to cook than but when done right, it's just as tasty as peeli daal. The recipe below was generously shared by my old neighbor and mom's good friend, Fazila Aunty's fabulous home cook, Aziz.
1 cup green lentils (can be found in any grocery store)
5 cups water
1 tsp salt (or to taste)
1/2 tsp black pepper (or to taste)
2 tsp Kashmiri red chili powder (available in specialty Indian/Pakistani grocery stories. Red cayenne pepper is a good substitute)
1/2 tsp turmeric powder
1/4 of a medium-sized onion, thinly sliced
Tadka (tempered spices in oil)
1/4 cup vegetable or canola oil
1/4 (or less) of a medium onion, thinly sliced
2 cloves of garlic, thinly sliced
2 dried red chilies
1/2 tsp of cumin seeds
Give the lentils a quick rinse
Add the lentils to a medium-sized sauce pan, add water and bring to a boil.
Once the water has come to a boil, add the onions and spices (turmeric, red chili powder, salt and pepper).
Give the daal a stir, cover it with a lid and let it cook undisturbed for 35-40 minutes.
About 20 minutes in, start getting the tadka ready.
Heat the oil in a frying pan and add the onions. Saute the onions on high heat till they start to brown a little. Then, add the garlic and saute it till it begins to brown as well. Be careful that both don't burn. Add the cumin seeds and stir till they become fragrant (while keeping an eye on the onions and garlic). Add the chilies.
The tadka is probably the most difficult part of this dish. Since each pan is different, you will have to adjust the heat and timing to ensure that the onions, garlic and spices don't become black. They should be a nice medium brown.
The sequencing is also important. The onions take longest to brown so add them first, and then add the rest of the ingredients in fairly quick succession.
Once the tadka is ready, check your daal and see if it's done. If it is, pour the tadka (yes, hot oil and all) into the daal and give it a stir for flavor.
I normally take the chilies and onions out of the tadka first, and save them for garnish.
Serve with rice and achaar (pickles).