Here is my recipe for tarka dal. I'm no Indian food expert so it's probably completely inauthentic, but it tastes good. It's a very comforting dish to eat, gently warming rather than eye-wateringly spicy with a soothing nutty, buttery, garlicky flavour. I like to eat this when it's cold and I need a day off from consuming meat.
You will need:
This will make enough for 2-3 people as a main course, or at least 6 as a side dish.
250-300g yellow split peas (chana dal)
1 tbsp cooking oil (groundnut, sunflower or whatever)
a small cinnamon stick
2 cardamom pods
1 small onion
2 heaped teaspoons good quality curry powder (I think the stuff in tins is best. Bolst's is good. You can get it at most asian supermarkets)
3 fat cloves garlic
a big chunk of ginger (thumb sized if you have fat thumbs, if you don't then bigger than thumb sized)
1 fresh chilli
1 tbsp butter
a small bunch of coriander
Salt, pepper and lemon juice for seasoning
What to do:
1. First you need to rinse the lentils and get them cooking. Rinse them in cold water until the water is running clear then put them on the boil in a large pan.
2. The cooking time for lentils seems to vary quite wildly so you'll need to check them, but it will probably be around 30 minutes. A lot of scum will rise to the surface of the boiling water. Strain this off with a slotted spoon.
3. Once the lentils are on the boil prepare the other ingredients. Chop the onion as finely as you can be bothered to. Cut the stalks off the coriander and chop them finely (these definitely need to be chopped finely otherwise you'll end up with stringy bits in the finished dish). Also roughly chop the coriander leaves. Grate or finely chop the garlic and ginger, and last but not least chop the chilli.
4. If you're really slow at chopping stuff you might need to check your lentils at this stage. If not you'll have time for a tea break. I suggest a nice strong brew with a couple of hobnobs. The lentils should be cooked through but not starting to disintegrate yet. When they're done drain them and set aside.
5. Warm up the oil in a heavy based pan over a medium heat. Add the cinnammon, cloves and cardamom pods and fry for a few seconds until they start to release their fragrance, then add the onion.
6. Fry for a few minutes until the onion has started to soften, then add the chilli, ginger, garlic and coriander stalks and fry for another minute or two. Make sure it doesn't start to burn at any point as it will go bitter and unpleasant.
7. Now add the curry powder and fry for another minute or two, before adding the lentils and pouring over boiling water. Add just enough water to barely cover the lentils, then simmer for another 5 minutes or so until the lentils start to break down and the whole thing thickens up nicely. The final texture is up to you, I like the lentils to retain a little bit of their shape, rather than be completely dissolved into a uniform mush.
8. Finally stir in the butter. I've suggested about 1 tbsp, but it's a bit like mashed potato in that it can pretty much take as much butter as you can throw at it. I don't know if a 50/50 butter/dal ratio is feasible, but it's probably worth a try if you think your arteries can handle it.
9. Season to taste with salt, pepper and maybe a squeeze of lemon juice, then sprinkle over the coriander and serve with chapattis or plain boiled rice.