My life has a superb cast but I can't figure out the plot.
~ Ashleigh Brilliant

Thursday, February 25, 2010

First Dahl I Ever Played With ;-)

"There are a million dahl recipes in the naked city..."

And I've tried a few of them and found them all delicious! But this one is pretty much my own concoction, and here is its story (you just knew it had to have a story, didn't you?) ;-)

When I was a senior in college, I lived in UNH's International dorm, which had its own kitchen. Every Wednesday night during the spring semester, each room took turns cooking dinner for the dorm, and the international students usually made typical fare from their homeland. My friend Safdar was from Karachi, Pakistan, and the night it was his turn he made dahl. I'd never heard of dahl before, but I fell in love with it immediately and ate three bowls of it that night! The recipe was his mom's, which I got a copy of but lost track of - along with Safdar, sadly - at some point in the ensuing years, but I never forgot him or his dahl.

So several years ago I decided to try to recreate Safdar's dahl from memory. My first batch turned out well, and surprisingly close to how I remembered Safdar's, but the recipe has changed a bit over the years as I've added more spices and combined it with ingredients I've found in other dahl recipes I've come across.

Lovely lentils aglow in the setting sun

The basic dahl recipe is, of course, still lentils (I prefer the red ones, which cook more quickly while holding their shape pretty well, and are prettier ~ says me!), onion, garlic, and the typical spices like turmeric, cumin and coriander. Feel free to add, increase, reduce or delete spices and veggies to your own taste (as long as you keep the lentils and curry!), and have fun playing with this recipe to make it your own. (And if you ever meet a really fun and friendly guy named Safdar from Karachi who went to UNH, please tell him to email me!) :-)

The little elephant is from my friend Ajith in Kerala, India,
who got it for me at a Hindu shrine.
He's always doing sweet things like that!


- 4 - 5 cups water or vegetable broth**
- 1 3/4 cups red lentils
- 2-3 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 medium yellow onion, chopped fine
- 3 tsp curry
- 1/2 - 1 tsp turmeric
- 1/2 - 1 tsp cumin
- 1/2 - 1 tsp coriander
- 1/2 tsp sea salt
- 2-3 medium potatoes, cubed (we use Yukon Golds)
- 3 celery stalks, diced
- 2 carrots, sliced
- 1 can diced fire-roasted tomatoes (or about 5 medium tomatoes, chopped)
- 1/8 tsp cayenne (optional)

In a large non-stick soup pot, sauté onion and garlic in some water (enough to prevent sticking) till soft.

Add water or broth**

Rinse lentils, picking out any stones, and add to pot, along with the curry, turmeric, cumin, coriander, salt and cayenne (if desired)

Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer uncovered over medium heat about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Add the potatoes, celery, and carrots, cover and simmer over low-medium heat an additional 15-20 minutes or until potatoes are tender, stirring occasionally.

Add the can of tomatoes and simmer 5-10 minutes more, uncovered, until heated through and the thickness you desire.

Great by itself, with vegan naan (or any whole grain) bread, or over brown rice.

** If we plan to eat the dahl by itself and want it thick and more stew-like, I use 4 cups of liquid - usually half organic vegetable broth and half water. If we plan to serve it over rice we like it a bit thinner, like a thick soup, so I use 5 cups of liquid (3 cups water and 2 cups broth).

Adjust the spice measurements according to your taste and to how much liquid you're using, using larger measurements if you're using 5 cups of liquid.

We live at high altitude so it takes longer for the potatoes to cook here. Adjust cooking times as needed for your own conditions and preferences (depending on what variety of potato you're using, you may want to add the potatoes with the lentils at the beginning, and the carrots and celery later. If you like your dahl more on the mushy side, you can add all of the above at the beginning... if you prefer your carrots and celery more au dente, add them later. This is a forgiving recipe, play with it till it suits your tastes!)

Other veggies and spices I've seen in other dahl recipes and sometimes add to this one include grated or ground ginger, thyme leaves, garam masala, zucchini, kohlrabi, spinach, and kale.

I have another dahl recipe (Compassionate Cooks' Masoor Dal) that calls for cumin seed, which is sautéed along with the onion and garlic. (I keep meaning to do that with this recipe and forgetting!)


This has nothing to do with dahl, but does have to do with Safdar, who will forever be inextricably linked with dahl in my heart and mind. :-) My friend AdventureJo (co-star of my Boulder posts), lived in the dorm nearest mine. During spring break of our senior year, she and Safdar and another International dorm resident, Katya from Guatemala and I all drove to Washington DC, where we stayed with another of my fellow dorm residents who was there for an internship. We visited several of the Smithsonian museums (I think this one's my favorite), the Washington Monument, the Lincoln, Jefferson and Viet Nam memorials, Arlington National Cemetery (including JFK's gravesite and the changing of the guard at the Tomb of the Unknowns), the Library of Congress (my favorite place in DC!), the Kennedy Center (another favorite spot, we even went back that evening for a Lillian Gish silent film festival!), the National Gallery of Art and Arboretum, Ford's Theater, did the Congressional tour of the White House (which "back in the day" involved more than the public tours, but maybe that's changed), sat in on a session of Congress, and Safdar and Katya both got to visit their embassies. It was a great experience to share with with them, and to get to see the nation's capital through their eyes. We also went shopping, dining and pubbing in Georgetown and attended the DC St. Patrick's Day Parade. While Safdar and Katya each visited friends in the area, Jo and I drove by my old house in Springfield, VA on our way to North Carolina to visit her fun friend Larell for a couple of days. Oh, and we even squeezed in a trip to a DC courtroom to fight an unjust parking ticket! (Which was reduced but not thrown out. Bandits!)

And we did the whole trip - gas, tolls, food... every single thing including even postcards and stamps - plus that stupid parking ticket - for less than $80 each! But the fun and the memories - priceless. :-)

Safdar and AdventureJo frolicking at the White House
March 1984, PD ("Pre-Digital") ;-)


  1. Great Post! Love the dahl and the story. Do you ever add curry leaves to your dahl?

    talk to you soon,

  2. That recipe look delicious...I must make red lentils more often.

    Sounds like a wonderful time in DC with your college buddies...ahh the good old days!

  3. Yum! I can always use a good dahl recipe. And yay for old photos! That sounds like a memorable road trip.

  4. Ali - Thanks! No, not surprisingly there's nary a curry leaf to be found here (or probably in the entire state).

    Rose - I love red lentils - and red quinoa, too - and often remind myself to cook with them more often! They're so appealing in so many ways!

    Mary - My sincere thanks to both you and Rose for not emphasizing the word old in your comments. LOL That trip to DC was indeed both wonderful and memorable. I remember being very cold, very hungry and very sleep-deprived the entire time and thoroughly enjoying every single minute!

  5. Thanks for the fun trip down memory lane! I had forgotten several of the things we had done and since I'm horrible with names, I had forgotten Safdar's - though his picture is in my photo album so I've taken the time to add his name to the back of the photo so I'll remember.

    You didn't mention that the reason we survived on only $80 was that we were quite resourcefull - like the political event we went to where we made a meal of the light refreshements that were served (didn't we crash that party) and we even made another snack later out of the stuff we cached away in our coat pockets! And when we did go to a restaurant (I think only once) all we ordered was fried ice cream! We had our priorities! :-)

  6. Hey, AdventureJo!

    I thought about sharing some anecdotes of our DC trip, but didn't have enough time to write them! However, since you mentioned two of my favorites in your comment... ;-)

    The political event Jo mentioned was a talk by Sen. Dale Bumpers (D-AR) that our friend Patti (our hostess), was attending one evening. We'd arranged to meet her when the talk let out so we could all go to Georgetown. But the talk ran late, leaving the four of us incredibly famished waifs waiting in the hall outside where a table had been heaped with food for the senator & talk attendees. We resisted as long as we could, we really did, but we were just too hungry and the talk went just too long, so we crammed as much of the FREE FOOD!!! in our mouths as we could (picture Lucy and Ethel in the infamous chocolate factory scene!), and more in our pockets and purses. By the time the talk let out, we had pretty much ravaged and defoliated the table. Wasn't much left but grape stems and cracker crumbs! (That should teach these long-winded politicians!) Patti took one look at the table and our chipmunk-like bulging cheeks and hustled us out of there as fast as she could! :-)

    For dessert we had the fried ice cream at a Chinese restaurant in Georgetown. It was the only thing on the menu we could afford, and even then it was a big splurge! What Jo failed to mention, though, is that she got blitzed on hers when the alcohol in the chocolate syrup failed to burn off (the waiter dramatically set our fried ice cream ablaze when he brought them to our table.) Jo, who is a petite thing, got giddier and giddier as she ate hers, and insisted it was full of alcohol. We thought she was being silly. I finally scooped up some of the chocolate syrup off her plate and HOT DAMN! It tasted like chocolate-flavored rubbing alcohol! So Jo got a twofer - dessert and an after-dinner drink for one money! Like she said, we were resourceful! :-)


Will Blog For Comments. :-)

Thanks for taking the time to leave yours!


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...



  • THE HUMANE GARDENER ~ Nancy Lawson
  • THE WORLD WITHOUT US ~ Alan Weisman

There is still strong in our society the belief
that animals and the natural world have value
only insofar as they can be converted into revenue.
That nature is a commodity.
And that the American dream is one of unlimited consumption.
There are many of us, on the other hand,
who believe that animals and the natural world
have value by virtue of being alive.
That Nature is a community to which we belong
and to which we owe our lives.
And that the deeper American dream is one of unlimited compassion.

~John Robbins, "The Food Revolution"

free counters