Recipe: Vicki Ravlich-Horan | Images: Ashlee DeCaires

Madhur Jaffrey, the Queen of Indian cuisine, writes of the importance of dal when she says in her Curry Bible “you can take meats and fish and vegetables from an Indian, but you cannot take away his dal – the core of his meal”.
Technically dal (also known as dhal, dahl or daal) is a term used for split legumes, think lentils, peas and beans. It’s also a term used for the popular thick soup like dishes made from these pulses. It’s not surprising this nourishing, thick, fragrant dish is so popular.

2 tbsp oil
1 onion, diced
2 garlic cloves, chopped
3cms fresh ginger, peeled and grated or finely chopped
1 kaffir lime leaf, tough central stem removed, finely sliced
1 fresh chilli (optional)
2 tsp ground cumin
2 tsp ground coriander
2 tsp garam masala
1 tsp ground turmeric
1 x 400ml tin coconut cream
3 tbsp tomato paste
2 tomatoes, roughly chopped
2 cups water
1 cup Toor Dal lentils (if you can find, otherwise split red lentils)
4 cups pumpkin, peeled and chopped into 2cm pieces
½ tsp ground chilli (optional)
½ tsp salt
juice of 1 lemon
2–3 cups baby spinach

Heat oil in a deep fry pan, add onion and cook for 4–5 minutes until translucent. Add garlic, ginger, kaffir lime and chilli if using and cook for 1 minute. Add spices and cook for 1 minute until fragrant, adding a ¼ cup of the water to stop them from sticking if need be.

Stir in the tomato paste and chopped tomatoes then the coconut cream, remaining water, lentils, pumpkin and salt. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to a simmer and cook for about 25 minutes, or until lentils and pumpkin are soft. Remember to stir a few times during cooking to make sure the lentils don’t burn and stick to the bottom of the pan.

Stir in spinach at the end, and season with lemon juice and more salt to taste.

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