The key to this dal sindhi? Lots of ginger

Whether through taste, aroma, or touch, food is one of the most visceral ways our brain stores happy memories. The mere smell of chickpea fritters fried in a big vat of oil reminds me of monsoons in India, when pakoras instantly become the snack of the day. And even though I don’t have a sweet tooth, toasting chickpea flour with ghee to make mithai, an Indian fudge-like candy, makes my mouth water.

On a recent trip to India with my daughter, Ajna, we had such an experience that I will forever cherish. Late at night after two long flights, we arrived at our hotel in New Delhi, hungry and tired. The only food available was limited room service. We ordered the staple, dal and rice.

Dal, being a popular lentil stew in virtually every home and restaurant across India, can be prepared in a thousand different ways. The dal that night was a simple, nourishing yellow moong dal sprinkled with fresh tomatoes and cumin, but with a delicious bite of ginger in every spoonful. It was very similar to a dal my mother would make which is originally from Sindh province, but the plentiful amount of ginger changed everything about it. Even for a seasoned cook like me, the dal made me shiver with excitement, and we licked up every drop with glee knowing it would become a staple in my kitchen when I returned to Texas.

This dal is currently on my restaurant menu, and here is a recipe for it — I urge you to put as much ginger in without fear.

SINDHI DAL

• 1 cup yellow moong dal
• 1 teaspoon ground dried turmeric
• 2 tablespoons pureed unpeeled ginger (see note)
• 1 teaspoon of salt
• 4+ tablespoons of olive oil or ghee
• 1 teaspoon of cumin seeds
• 1/2 cup minced white or yellow onion
• 1 teaspoon minced garlic
• 1 teaspoon of red pepper powder
• 2 cups diced ripe tomatoes
• 2 tablespoons finely diced unpeeled ginger
• 1 teaspoon grated jaggery
• Juice of one lemon
• Herbs for garnish

Instructions for use: Rinse the moong dal lentils 2 to 3 times in water then soak for at least one hour and up to 4 hours. If the soak takes longer, refrigerate the soaked lentils. Drain.

Mix the lentils with 3 cups of water and bring to a boil. Foam or scum may rise to the surface; using a slotted spoon, discard it. It is the impurities that often cause stomach upset when eating lentils. Alternatively, discard the water from the first boil and add fresh water to cook the lentils. At this point, add the turmeric, ginger puree and salt. Once the mixture comes to a boil, cover and simmer the lentils for 20 to 30 minutes or until completely soft and dissolved.

In a separate skillet over high heat, heat the olive oil or ghee and sauté the cumin seeds. Immediately add the minced onion and sauté over low heat until soft and translucent and has a little color. Then add the garlic, red chilli powder and tomatoes and braise over low heat for 10-12 minutes until the tomatoes are cooked. Pour this mixture into the lentils with the jaggery and slowly simmer the dal for another 10 minutes or more. The consistency should be thick, so cook it longer if necessary. Turn off the heat and add the chopped ginger, reserving a little for decoration. Let the dal sit for 10-15 minutes. Stir in the juice of one lemon and drizzle with olive oil or ghee if desired. Finish with chopped ginger, herbs and serve.

Notes and variants

*To make pureed ginger, combine 2 cups coarsely chopped unpeeled ginger with 1/2 to 1 cup water (just enough to cover the top of the ginger) and puree in a blender until smooth . Use the ginger with the water in the dal.

*Instead of fresh tomatoes, use 1 cup canned crushed tomatoes – Mutti is a brand I prefer.

* This dal can be made with masoor (orange) lentils or with channa dal, however, the cooking time will increase.

For 4 to 6 people

From chef Anita Jaisinghani

Anita Jaisinghani is the chef-owner of Pondicheri Restaurant in Houston. His website is india1948.com. Her first cookbook, “Masala” (Ten Speed ​​Press), is published in August. Email: anita@pondicheri.com.