Toor dal (also known as split pigeon peas) is an important staple in the Indian diet. Toor dal is healthy, nutritious and an excellent source of protein. This dal also cooks in a snap especially when using a pressure cooker but can just as easily be cooked on the stovetop.
The pressure cooker is absolutely indispensable in the Indian kitchen. It cooks dals, beans, lentils, vegetables, rice, chicken and lamb in mere minutes (as opposed to hours). The result is a fully cooked and tender final product that is cooked by a fast and healthy method. Pressure cookers can be a little intimidating at first, but I highly recommend using one especially for Indian meals. Pressure cookers will make your life easier and are a wonderful time saver. The newer modern pressure cookers are inexpensive and much safer to use. They are also easily available in most home and kitchen appliance stores.
My Tomato Dal is perfect any day of the week – this simple dish is healthy, delicious & easy to prepare. I have made it using toor dal but feel free to use chana dal (split gram dal), moong dal (yellow skinned/split variety) or a combination of dal varieties instead.
2 cups toor dal, washed and drained
1 medium onion, thinly chopped
1 large tomato, finely chopped
1” piece of ginger, peeled and finely minced
2 large garlic cloves, finely minced
3-4 small green Thai chilies, slit in half lengthwise (or you can use dried red chilies), to taste
˝ tsp turmeric (haldi)
˝ tsp black mustards seeds
˝ tsp cumin seeds
pinch of asafetida (hing)
6-8 fresh curry leaves
salt & pepper, to taste
juice of ˝ fresh lemon or lime
3 tbsp ghee or butter (or you can use vegetable or canola oil)
freshly chopped cilantro leaves for garnish
In a large soup pot on high heat, add 4 cups of water along with the toor dal. Bring to a good boil, cover, reduce the heat to simmer and let cook until the dal is tender but not mushy (about 15-20 minutes). Alternatively, you could cook the dal in a pressure cooker if you wish.
In a large saucepan on medium high heat, add 2 tbsp of the ghee. Now add the onions and sauté until just softened & slightly browned. Next, add the ginger & garlic. Sauté for a few more minutes & then add the tomatoes. Stir fry until the tomatoes have softened & then add the turmeric, salt and pepper. Mix well to combine all of the ingredients. After about another minute or so, carefully add the cooked toor dal along with any cooking liquid. If necessary, add a little more water as needed. Now, add the lemon juice & simmer on low for about 4-5 minutes until all the ingredients have come together nicely.
In another saucepan on medium high heat, add the remaining ghee. When hot, very carefully add the mustard seeds. When the splattering subsides, quickly add the cumin seeds. Reduce the heat to medium and add the asafetida, green or dried red chilies and the curry leaves. Now carefully pour this entire hot oil mixture over the dal. Garnish with the freshly chopped cilantro and serve with warm chapatis and fragrant Basmati rice.
This recipe could be made using any dal such as masoor dal, chana dal or your favorite type of dal. But remember that cooking times will vary according to the type of dal used. Also, feel free to add your favorite vegetables (such as spinach, carrots, zucchini...).
Try making this dal with various heirloom tomatoes, green tomatoes, cherry/grape tomatoes or even tomatillos. If you are using tomatillos, they are tart enough so just omit the lemon/lime juice.
Sometimes, I like to garnish the dish with a little toasted cashew pieces for extra flavor & texture. For a little extra decadence, fry the cashew pieces in a little ghee or butter before adding to the dish.
You could also serve this as a soup course with some toasty croutons.