This easy dal recipe post has been a long time coming. Dal is the comfort food of my people. Growing up in a Bengali household in the Midwest in the 1980s, “Indian food” was seldom something we would go out for. It was the food we ate at home on weeknights and on weekends at friend’s homes. It was a cuisine I took for granted until I went off to college and found myself 2000 miles from my mother’s kitchen.
Now one might think I’m about to share her recipe but truth be told: she was not a great cook. Still, her dal was a favorite of mine and to this day the site of yellow split pea dal sends me back to the days of my youth.
This truly is an easy dal recipe thanks to the time saving hack of reaching for the Instant Pot. It might seem like a lot of effort to reach for two pots, but the final product will make the time spent digging through your cabinets totally worth it.
My easy dal recipe starts off with a total hack: you precook the split peas. In an Instant add 1 cup of water, place a trivet inside and along with a heatproof bowl(I use a metal one) and add two cups of split peas and 4 cups of water. Set the Instant Pot to High Pressure for 6 minutes. Use a natural pressure release(wait for the valve to go down on its own), reserve.
While the split peas(and yes you could use lentils) are cooking, let’s get to work on these aromatics. Above we have chopped onion, minced garlic and ginger along with some garam masala and turmeric. I make my own garam masala based on this recipe or you can use curry powder.
Whichever you choose I want to emphasize that you use fresh spices. Spices go flat and unless you are a baking freak and making shawarma every other week, my guess is that your cinnamon and nutmeg has seen better days. If you want to max the flavor out of this recipe make sure your spices don’t qualify as museum artifacts.
It all starts with the onions. Well, actually it starts with heating oil in a heavy bottomed pot. I use olive oil but I’m pretty sure mom reached for the Mazola. Either way, heat the oil for several minutes on a medium heat. The goal here is to cook down the onions till golden which is usually about 10 minutes so you don’t want the pot too hot.
About 8 minutes in and you are looking at a nice pale yellow. Time to put in the ginger and garlic.
Ginger and garlic burn easily which is why I wait until the onions have reached the desired color. Now it’s time to make your house smell like a proper Indian restaurant.
My dad hated the smell of cooking in the house, especially Indian spices. Good thing he was a doctor and not a chef. You’ll mix the spices in for a minute or two and then it’s really go time . . .
Within minutes of adding those cooked split peas and bit of water you have dal my friends. If you use lentils you might need to add more water and spend more time getting them down to your desired consistency but it’s all preference. If you want to take things to a full on soup: keep adding water. I like something akin to a thick stew.
By the time this landed on my plate I was feeling pretty darned satisfied with the consistency which to me is the ultimate dal challenge even with this easy dal recipe. I did notice that as the dal sat in the pot, it thickened up even more. When I reheat this, because of course I make enough for the next day, I might add a little water or stock.
Now one of the reasons why this dish is such a hit at my house is that it isn’t too spicy and my kid gobbles it up. But daddy likes heat. So I went ahead and made a riff on salsa matcha as a hot little topper. Salsa Matcha involves heating chilies in oil and making salsa out of that plus some garlic. My twist involved some blistered cherry tomatoes. It was nice way to add heat, plus some fat to the dish.
Super proud to share this easy dal recipe with you too. This was a meal I grew up loving and has come into it’s own as my version. Hope you enjoy it too! And once I get around to perfecting my Instant Pot Lamb Biriyani, I just might have the ultimate one-two Indian recipe punch!