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Geneva, Inspired Posts, Simple Recipe, South Asian/Desi Food, Vegetarian

Daal, Dahl, Daaaaahl or For the Love of Daal (for Simon Majumdar)

I just looked you up, Simon. Umm…you are kind of famous. I just thought you were some dude on twitter…who happens to know Alton Brown (ok, ok, I just realized what I was saying when I started typing)…well…good…glad it worked out for you and now you get to judge TV Food Shows. This post is for you! (Only cuz you love daal, too).

Daal….how do I love thee?
Let me count the ways.

Actually…they are countless. Nothing beats daal.  I would win the “I love daal” competition if one were to be held.  It is a simple mans food.  I insisted that it be served at my wedding.  Yes, that is correct.  At one of those massive South Asian weddings…on the menu:  daal. (There were other things too but all a side show to the daal as far as I was concerned).

You would think that anyone can cook daal, and I do think you can (I’ve tasted some miserable daals, but there is no need for that kind of travesty in the world)…but let’s be clear:

My Daal Kicks Ass.

There are very few things I can say that about, but really…it ROCKS.  It’s one of the first things I learned to make (I learned by being my mother’s helper in the kitchen…it sure beat setting the table or washing up after which was reserved for my two other sisters).  I started out with my mother’s daal and then it morphed as everything has tended to.

My secret killer ingredient…and I’m not afraid to share this with you:


Yep…love.  I actually cook love into my daal.  My love.  If my love were to take an interpretive tangible form, this video illustrates what it would look like:

That’s right.  You have to eat it to believe it.


  • Red Lentils (one cup)–I always call it orange daal but it’s called red.
  • One tomato chopped (can use tomato paste if you like.  One teaspoon)
  • One chilli diced (green or red…I’m not fussed-choose what you like.  I do)
  • Red chili powder (half a teaspoon–or as you like)
  • Tumeric (half a teaspoon)
  • Salt (to taste)
  • Chicken or veg bullion cube (half)
  • Zehra’s love (eyeball it).


Wash the daal till water runs somewhat clear.  You don’t need to be fussy….give it like 5 or 6 run throughs with the water.  Add two cups of water to the daal and put on high heat on the stove.  As you go along, start sticking in all the ingredients.  Order doesn’t matter.  I usually stick the spices in first, then cut the tomato and chili and stick it in and stock cube last as the water is hot by then.  Let water come to a boil and put on LOW heat and put the lid on.

Nothing major now for the next 40 minutes.  Every ten or fifteen, just give it a stir to get the veggies crushed in nicely and to make sure you have enough water in there.  Also, depending on how you like your daal (thicker or thinner), you need to add water or at the end, boil it off.  Something my mom used to do after 40 minutes was to run a hand blender through it…the old school kind with a hand cranker on it.  I sometimes just whisk it lightly or sometimes just let it cook longer.  Depends on how late I am with dinner.  When you are satisfied with the consistently, put the heat back up for the next bit.

Here comes the important part:  the tarka.  A tarka at the end of any South Asian dish is basically just frying up spices as a finale.


  • Dried red chilies (or fresh chili works too if you don’t have dry ones like I don’t have in Geneva right now)
  • Rough bulky chop garlic cloves (two–more if you want)
  • Cumin seeds (I like a lot of them…one teaspoon should be OK)
  • (Other things that have been used but I don’t: thinly sliced onions, curry leaves, coriander seeds)


Take a tiny pan and put three tablespoons of oil in it.  Drop your chilis in it and let it sit over high heat.  When chilis start to pop and brown a bit, add the garlic.  This is hot oil so please be careful.  As soon as you see that the garlic is browning up, add the cumin seeds.  Let oil coat your cumin seeds and take it off the heat.  Burnt cumin seeds are not a happy flavour.  And they burn fast.  Stir up your daal one last time (which should be boiling at this point), and VERY CAREFULLY, add your tarka to the pot.  It makes this very satisfying sheeeeeeeeeesssssssssshhhhhhh kind of sound.  Like a flambe without the fire.  I tend to hold a lid near this flambe action so that the hot oil does not spatter all over.  It took me a good five times doing this by myself before I got comfortable with it.  Don’t despair–keep at it.

Daal ready for eating with brown rice, yogurt and hot mango pickle. Heaven in a bowl.

So, there you go.  My daal.  Now you know.  It’s the first time I’ve actually written out a recipe.  Any good?  If I can’t teach one with the VERY SIMPLE daal recipe, this blog is just doomed to fail.

Or you know what?  Come back when you know how to boil water.  Till then….happy eating (takeaway).

*Post inspired by @SimonMajumdar tweeting about going home to eat daal, which started a daal aficianado conversation between @FinelyChopped, @orangejammies, @pervinsanghvi and myself


About Zehra

Zehra is a livelihoods and cash transfer specialist working in humanitarian contexts. She has also been a health and lifestyle coach for humanitarian aid workers. Loves food, bollywood and tweeting (@zehrarizvi).


6 thoughts on “Daal, Dahl, Daaaaahl or For the Love of Daal (for Simon Majumdar)

  1. Already loving this blog 🙂 Yeah Simon’s jinda famous. i first read his book. Then gawked at him on the net as a fan…and he does often answer my questions on existential angst now

    So you make your daal Zehra and I will make the Bengali daal with fish head. Then we’ll trade

    Posted by Kalyan | July 12, 2011, 8:52 am
  2. Zehra! In the works on my blog is a post on something we call (I swear this is true!) “Zehra wedding Dal” And the funny thing is this: it’s not this recipe! Haha! Just wait – a wedding dal recipe is coming . . . . It will bring back some memories!!

    Posted by Kiran | July 23, 2011, 1:42 am
  3. love it! so that spice in the cupboard IS cumin? (I need english-urdu spice translations..) I’m making Zehra’s daal for tomorrow’s sunday-yoga-brunch 🙂

    Posted by Amanda | July 23, 2011, 1:22 pm
    • Cumin seeds are in your cupboard….and coriander powder might be there…i can’t recall now if i got you some or not….Here is a quick list for you:

      Huldi or Haldi: Tumeric
      Zeera: Cumin (Sabud Zeera: Cumin seeds…sabud means whole)
      Laal Mirchi: Red Chili (when something is spicy you can also say it’s mirchi!)
      Dhaniya: Coriander (not to be confused with Duniya which means world).
      Namak: Salt.

      That should do you in the basic spice dept…let me know how it turned out!

      Posted by Zehra | July 24, 2011, 10:58 am

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