Oh this post makes me feel a warm wave of nostalgia – even more than a lot of recipes do, and I’m well known as a sentimental hopeless romantic at the best of times! You see, lentils, specifically in the form of Indian dal, transport me back to the happy, happy days of my first degree back in London. Being an archetypical penniless student as well as a lifelong Indian food fan, dal was a regular make in the tiny, ill-equipped and overly cluttered student house shared kitchens.
If I weren’t making it to eek out the supplies until my next student loan instalment came in, I was cooking it with friends as part of huge Indian feasts at times of celebration. Occasionally, we’d have enough money to go out for a curry to say Mile End or Bethnal Green where there were no shortage of cheap but cheerful balti houses but that was rare.
Homemade dal was one of the things which kept me alive during those frugal days! This Instant Pot Coconut Dal I make nowadays is all pleasure even though I no longer need to cook them or I wouldn’t have anything to eat.
Lentils are a symbol of good fortune in a lot of cultures, funnily enough and I can’t help but wonder if that is something to do with how economical they are. Not only does a large bag feed many and costs no more than a pound or two, they are extremely filling. Far more so than oats, which are commonly reported to be the best thing to keep you full all day. Out of meagre beginnings, at least a rich and satisfying meal is only a matter of moments away.
Plus, although they are certainly not photogenic once cooked (oh, the headache of getting a decent shot for this post!), especially if you haven’t branched out into the magnificent world of flavour that is Indian food before, believe me one taste will seal the deal. It may be a world dominated by shades of beige, brown and yellow but the intensity of flavour this cuisine confers is something very special.
If you ever tire of soup for lunch or a light dinner, then let me try and persuade you to try a dal. I think any meal which is eaten from a bowl and that contains a careful selection of spices is the as comforting as eating gets. Using a freshly made and still warm flatbread or some roti in place of a spoon and boom, I am in heaven.
After browning some onion, adding garlic and ginger and then just a few aromatic spices in the way of black cardamom which is so much more husky, smoky and pungent than it’s green cousin, some cherry bomb whole dried chillies and turmeric, a clatter of red and yellow lentils followed by a splash of coconut milk and the dal is nearly done.
And yes, I eat the chillies whole – I am a chilli junkie so Hungry Hubby passes me his! I use a mixture of lentils as I like them both – the red for flavour and the yellow split peas for extra substance as they cook down to a very thick purée.
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Pressure cooking the lentils is faster than on the stove plus you don’t have to watch it to ensure there is enough water. Plus you can scale up the recipe and cook a very large batch without taking your largest pan out of action if you are planning a curry feast! You can freeze leftovers in food safe plastic bags or tupperware pots and although it thickens considerably when cold, it is easy to bring back to life in a pan with a splash or two of boiling water per serving.
When serving straight away, I stir in a large amount of fresh coriander (you can be more restrained but Hungry Hubby and I adore it, it’s our favourite fresh herb) and I do one final flourish that really does guarantee a tasty dal. I temper some spices in a little more oil – cumin and mustard seeds in this simple dal – then they are poured with a flourish into the cooked lentils. Taking a spoonful of the dal out and swilling out the pan is a trick every Indian mama knows to get every last flavourful seed into your dal.
It’s called tadka or tarka in some Indian dialects but there are as many words for this tempering process as there are spellings for the word dal! Sometimes I have a squirt of lime juice to bring sharpness and brightness to all these earthy, pungent flavours, sometimes I don’t. You may also want to thin it down as a lot of folk like their dal more like a soup. Make this recipe your own and don’t forget to let me know how you like yours x
- 1 tsp oil - coconut veg or mild olive oil
- 1 medium onion finely diced
- 3 cloves of garlic minced
- 1 inch of ginger finely chopped
- 3 dried red chillies*
- 1 black cardamom pod
- 1 tsp turmeric
- 150 g red lentils washed well under running water then drained
- 150 g yellow lentils washed well under running water then drained
- 200 ml coconut milk
- 400 ml just boiled water
- 1-2 tsp oil as above
- 1 tsp cumin seeds
- 1 tsp mustard seeds
- 2 tbsp chopped fresh coriander
- Seas salt to taste
- Optional - lime juice to taste
Set the Instant Pot to Sauté and add the oil.
Cook the onion until softened and starting to brown around the edges, then add the garlic, ginger, chillies, cardamom, and turmeric. Cook for 1 minute until fragrant until fragrant stirring constantly.
Stir in the lentils then follow with the coconut milk and water. Stir really well and make sure you scrape the sides and bottoms down so to ensure all the lentils are covered with water.
Cancel Sauté mode, put the lid on and set to Manual for 15 minutes. Allow a Natural Pressure Release. Give it a really good stir, crushing the lentils against the sides of the pan and it will come together to a thick purée with some whole lentils remaining.
In a small saucepan, heat the extra oil you have and when hot add in the cumin and mustard seeds - be careful, they will sputter and split. Once sizzling, stir into the dal. Once stirred in, add a ladleful of the dal to the saucepan, swirl it about and pour back into the dal. As if by magic, any leftover seeds in the saucepan will slide right out into the pot!
Stir in the coriander, taste and season with salt to your preference and add a squeeze of lime juice if you want a bit of bite. Serve immediately in bowls.
*= I use cherry bomb red chillies which are small and squat - if you can't find them, use one dried Kashmiri chilli which is much larger/longer.
If you have leftovers, you will need to reheat them in a saucepan, adding some just boiled water to thin it out again as leftover dal becomes quite solid and certainly very thick when cold.
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Don’t forget to also check out my What You Need To Know About the Instant Pot post for more useful hints & tips!