Helen’s Retreat Dahl

Over the last few years I have learned there is a lot more to making Dahl than a load of old lentils. Moving to Bristol 10 years ago really opened my eyes to this. Eating out at lots of decent Indian restaurants and buying fresh Dahl made in the kitchens of Asian supermarkets taught me a few lessons. At their simplest, Dahl recipes often involve little other than red lentils, onion, tinned tomatoes and curry powder. Some of these recipes are quite nice, but in my mind, rarely compare to an authentic Dahl served in a good Indian restaurant. These tend to be silky smooth, rich in flavour and very special.

Previously, the closest I’d come to perfecting a really good Dahl was from following a recipe in a Hare Krishna recipe book someone gave me for free on the street, called The Higher Taste, but even this has room for improvement.

So here is my Tarka Dahl recipe (meaning garlic Dahl), which is largely inspired by conversations I’ve had with people who have family or friends of Pakistani origin, who have shared some of their methods and secrets.

Key elements include; adequate soaking time, amount of garlic, chili and salt ratio and a golden rule not to stir too much.

Here I used Moong dahl (skinned and split mung beans), as they form a wonderful velvety texture when cooked. I served my Dahl with Quinoa; but it’s also delicious with brown or basmati rice or homemade chapati.

Helen’s Retreat Dahl
Serves 2
Preparation/cooking time 1 hour, 10 mins, plus soaking time

2 cups Moong dahl (or 1 cup red lentils, 1 cup yellow split peas)
4 large cloves garlic, chopped into large pieces
1/2 onion, thinly sliced
1 tsp cumin seeds
2 handfuls of spinach, washed

Spice mix (also known as the baghaar or chownk)
2 tbsp of vegetable or sunflower oil
1/2 onion, thinly sliced
2 cloves garlic, crushed
1 tsp chili powder
1/2 – 1 tsp salt
1 tbsp cumin seeds
3/4 tsp turmeric

1-2 cups of water to mix in at the end
Splash of lemon juice
Sprinkle of fresh or dried coriander to serve

1. Cover the Moong dahl with water and soak for at least an hour.
2. Rinse them through, place in a medium-sized saucepan and cover with fresh water.
3. Add the four garlic cloves, first half of onion and the teaspoon of cumin seeds.
4. Bring to the boil, then cover and turn down to simmer for an hour. Mix only very gently. The aim is to keep the dahl intact.
5. Towards the end of the hour, add the spinach to the mix, so it wilts in.
6. Heat the oil for the spice mix in a small frying pan. Soften the onion and garlic before adding the rest of the spices. Brown everything off in the oil, but do not have the heat too hot or allow to burn. It should be golden and aromatic.
7. Pour the spice mix into the Dahl and incorporate gently.
8. Add 1-2 cups of water at the end if needed, plus a splash of lemon juice, to create a Dahl of your desired consistency; either like a soup, or thicker to be scooped up in a chapati!
9. Serve with fresh or dried coriander sprinkled on the top, with a spoon of dairy-free yoghurt or chutney.

Picture taken for the Viva! Cookbook.


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