BLACK DAL

Since discovering Dishoom many moons ago I have obsessed over their legendary Black Dal. I don’t know any one who hasn’t fallen under its spell and if you haven’t, I’m not sure I fully trust you. Their recipe is, understandable, a big secret but I’ve always sat there trying to decipher the spices and technique whilst barely coming up for air – what was making it so damn creamy and good? Masala Zone also do a good one so I used to be able to get my fix delivered to me, which became a bit of a Friday night obsession, but they stopped doing takeaway (who does that in this day and age?) forcing me to take matters into my own hands.

One day I was flicking through Georgina Hayden’s ‘Stirring Slowly’, one of my fave cookbooks, and there was a recipe for Black Dal. That was it! I was determined to nail it straight out the gate. Sadly, that wasn’t to be. The first time I made it, despite soaking the lentils overnight, then boiling the life out of them and then cooking them for hours AND HOURS, they just wouldn’t get soft and the dal wasn’t turning out how I had hoped. I was a little miffed, mostly at myself, because despite hours and hours of lovingly stirring it and coaxing it, the dal was defeating me. After that I let it go for a bit but then the craving came back and with my supply cut off I had to work it out.

So, I asked my mate Rachel who makes her own and she told me she always cooks it with a lid on and in the oven, low and slow rather than lid off and on the hob like the recipe said. I set about making it again but this time with split rather than whole urid dal (more likely to go soft and creamy), in a Le Creuset with the lid on and in a low oven for 10 hours (the Dishoom one is supposedly cooked for forever). It worked. I made a few tweaks to the recipe, as is my nature, so below is my slant on it. You want to do this when you can be near your oven all day but I think it’s worth it.

This makes a lot, I mean serious amounts but there’s no point cooking something for this long for a couple of portions. You can freeze whatever is left over from your feast. I have only made this with semi skimmed milk as that’s all we have around here and I’m never organised enough to get full fat, despite this it still turns out creamy and rich but go full fat if that’s more your bag.

Please be aware that beyond the first 600ml of milk and 100ml of water called for below, the  liquid measurements are a guide. How much you use will depend on factors like: how hot your oven runs, what pot you put yours in and how long you cook yours for. This is based on me using a cast iron Le Creuset with the lid on in a fan oven at 140C for 10 hours. Basically, you keep topping it up when you think your dal needs it – you will be amazed at how much liquid those lentils can absorb. Please read my helpful tips below BEFORE you set out on this dal adventure.

Helpful tips - read me:

Firstly, you need a large casserole or heavy bottomed pan that can go in the oven – no plastic handles.

Secondly, the key is to let this cook low and slow for a minimum of 8 hours but 10 is the ideal! It won’t darken for the first couple of hours but don’t be disheartened, it will.

After a couple of hours, check on the dal and give it a good stir, if it’s getting dry top it up with more milk – use the remaining 200ml of milk as a guide and same with the water – there’s no hard and fast rule here. I added 500ml of water after 6 hours to top it up and ensure there was plenty of sauce and then another 200ml of water at the 8.5 hour mark. The result was an incredibly rich and creamy dal that was good. Very good.

Once you get past the 3 hour mark keep an hourly check on your dal, give it a stir and top it up with water and milk as you need it.

It will need a lot more salt than you think so just taste and adjust as you go. Obviously the more liquid you add the more salt you may need to add.

I don’t have a slow cooker but I imagine this would work well and be much more time efficient. This might be the motivation I need to finally treat myself to one. If you try this in yours, please let me know how it turns out.

Ingredients:

500g split urid dal (I use the Natco ones)

2 large onions

10 garlic cloves

5cm piece of ginger

50g butter

1 ½ teaspoon of Garam Masala

1 teaspoon of Kashmiri/mild chilli powder

1 teaspoon of ground cumin 

2 tablespoons of tomato puree

400g tin of chopped tomatoes

800ml semi skimmed OR full fat milk

1.1 Litres of water

sea salt and black pepper

1. Thoroughly rinse your split urid dal and leave to soak in a big bowl of cold water over night – make sure you allow enough water for them to soak up lots of it without being left dry

2. The next morning (you want to start early so it can blip away all day) either finely chop or blitz the onion, peeled garlic cloves and ginger in a mixer very briefly. You want them to be pretty fine.

3. Drain and rinse the lentils then put them in a large heavy bottomed saucepan with plenty of cold water and bring to the boil. Once boiling, reduce them to a simmer and cook for 45 minutes or until soft. Skim off all the scum that collects on top.

4. Whilst the lentils are cooking, add the butter to a large heavy bottomed casserole or pan (it must have a tight fitting lid and be able to go in the oven) over a lowish heat. Once melted, add the onion, garlic and ginger and let it fry until soft but not brown.

5. Turn your oven onto 140C fan or slightly higher if electric

6. Add the spices, stir and let it all cook for a couple of minutes then add the tomato puree. Cook for a few minutes more then add the tinned tomatoes.  Add a couple of generous pinches of salt and some black pepper and let this simmer gently over a small ring on a low heat whilst the lentils simmer.

7. When the lentils are soft, drain and add to the tomato mix in the pan. Stir well to combine. Pour over 600ml of milk and 100ml of water, making sure the lentil are completely covered, use more if you need, stir again and then put into the oven.

8. Leave it to do it’s thing for the first couple of hours and then start checking it more regularly as it really depends on how hot your oven is to how this cooks but the key is LOW, SLOW AND LONG = CREAMY.

9. After 3 hours starting checking, stirring and topping up your dal hourly. You really want to get this over the 10 hour mark so make sure you keep an eye on it so it doesn’t scorch on the sides or dry out.

10. Once you’re happy with it and the seasoning is how you want it, serve! I love it with rice and paratha