As culturually insensitive and as culinary inappropriate as this may sound, I always think of dal as a confused bolognese.
Hear me out.
It straddles the line of curry… and bolognese… but is absolutely neither… but kind of both at the same time?
Nothing like a bolognese in flavour or components but everything like it in the sense of texture and a bit of the method? Don’t judge me or cast me away for this observation.
Now there are some spices in this dal but not to the point of overwhelm. The cardamom and coriander offer gentle smoky warmth and earthiness, not loudmouth punch, and any rage from the chilli powder is tamed by the sweet silkiness of beetroot.
And with the addition of coconut, the sweet and heavy combination of both just has to be countered by my Cucumber Pickles. If you don’t see yourself as a pickler, don’t worry, this method does away with any sterilising and jarring – just some chopping and pouring.
I highly recommend the Cucumbers here. The dal in itself is wonderful, don’t get me wrong, but there’s a cool but spiky sourness to them that brings this all together, not to mention a very welcome crunch against the rubbly creaminess of the dal.
Also these cucumbers are perfect in tuna or cheese sandwiches. Remember I told you.
Start with the pickles. Take half a cucumber and slide it into halves roughly the thickness of a £1.
Fling them in a bowl and add some coriander seeds, some caraway seeds, some pink (or black) peppercorns and some salt. Partially cover them with white wine vinegar and then top up the bowl with water. Stir together, cover and leave to sit while you make your dal.
Chop an onion as fine as you have nerve for and chuck into a pot with some oil. Salt them, put on a medium heat and cook until the soften.
Grate in a garlic clove and cook for a few minutes.
Add in half a teaspoon of garam masala, quarter of a teaspoon of cumin, quarter of a teaspoon of ground coriander, quarter a teaspoon of ground cardamom and a pinch of chilli powder. Stir and cook for a few more minutes.
While the spices cook, either grate or finely chop up two or three beetroots from one of those suction pack things. Add half of this rubbly mess into the pot now and cook for 2 or 3 minbutes/
Empty in around 200g of red lentils and stir them around the spiced beetroot and onions so that they start to get pink and glossy. Keep cooking and stirring for another 5 minutes or so.
Now pour in a can of coconut milk, and fill the empty can up half way with water and toss that in too. Bring everything to a boil, stir and then drop to a simmer for 20 minutes stirring just every now and then.
You want the lentils to absorb the water and be almost purred and creamy. Now add in the last half of the beetroot and simmer for another 5 minutes, adding a tiny dash of water if you need it slightly creamier.
Serve with some rice and topped with the now spiked up Cucumber Pickles and maybe a little dusting of chilli flakes on top