If I’m honest, I’m not the biggest fan of chicken curries. I fail to see what it adds to the dish and enjoy eating the sauce, which I could gobble by the ladle, much more than the meat.
When I do a meat curry, however, I select a more pungent protein like lamb or, if chicken is what I’ve got, I marinate and grill it before adding to the sauce. There is no shortcut here, it requires time. And time is what I don’t have in the middle of the week when the curry cravings kick in.
So why have meat at all? After catching myself mopping up the sauce with naan bread and leaving the chicken pieces to one side on more than one occasion, why not just cook the part that I like?
Step 1 – Rinse the lentils under cold water and simmer for 20 minutes, spooning the scum off as it comes.
Well, I have just the recipe for that: a creamy and fragrant lentil stew, with sharp spices and comforting flavors, that can be scooped up with bread or eaten with a spoon.
Tarka dal (meaning “seasoned lentils”) is quick and easy. All ingredients can be stored in your pantry or freezer, and once you have invested in a few key spices, you’ll be able to whizz this up at any time.
Step 2 to 4 – Fry the onion and the cumin seeds for about 10 minutes. Once caramelized, add half of the chopped garlic and fry for a few minutes. Add the mixture to the lentils, along with spices and salt.
This recipe is, too, inspire by Meera Sodha’s book “Made in India”. I use red split lentils instead of the more classic yellow split ones as they cook much faster without compromising the flavor and texture of the dish, which is perfect when short on time.
If you choose to use another type of pulse, follow the cooking time on the packet. They should be soft and fall apart when stirring, to create a homogeneous, porridge-like curry.
Step 5 – Fry the mustard seeds in the remaining oil. When they start to pop, add the rest of the garlic and the chili. Take off the heat as soon as the garlic start to turn golden.
This might be a vegetarian meal, but trust me, even the biggest carnivore would not notice the lack of meat. With lentils being high in fibers and so full of protein, this dish will fill you up, and keep you filled up for hours.
Not only is it quicker and tastier than any meat curry you could prepare in the same amount of time, but it’s also cheaper and healthier. Win, win, win.
- 200g Red split lentils (about 1 cup, heaped)
- 600ml Water
- 2 tbsp Vegetable oil
- 1/2 tbsp Cumin seeds
- 1/2 Onion
- 3 Garlic clove
- 1/2 tsp Garam masala
- 1/4 tsp Chili powder
- 1/2 tsp Salt
- 1/4 tsp Mustard seeds
- 1 small Red Chili (or half a large)
- Rinse the lentils with cold water under the tap until it runs clear and put them in a sauce pan. Pour the water, bring to the boil and simmer on a medium-low heat for 20 minutes. After a few minutes, scum will appear which is normal. Simply spoon it off as it comes.
- While the lentils cook, heat a frying pan on a medium heat and thinly slice the onion. When the pan is hot, add 1 tablespoon of oil and fry the onion with the cumin seeds for about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally.
- In the meantime, finely slices the garlic cloves. Once the onions have caramelized, add half of the chopped garlic and fry for a 1-2 minutes.
- Add the fried preparation to the lentils, along with spices and salt. Stir, check the seasoning and adjust the consistency with water if needed, it should neither be too thick nor too watery. Keep on a low heat while you prepare the Tarka.
- Carefully wipe the frying pan used for the onions with kitchen towel and put back on a medium heat. Add the remaining tablespoon of oil and fry the mustard seeds. When they start to pop, add the rest of the garlic and the chili. Take off the heat as soon as the garlic start to turn golden and drizzle over the lentils.
- Serve piping hot with your favorite bread.
- Garlic burns quickly and you should be extra careful when frying thinly sliced cloves. Take them off the heat before they look ready as it will keep frying in for a few seconds.
- I keep my chilies in the freezer and chop what I need as I need it. For curries, pastes or dips it’s perfect, but I would recommend using fresh ones if you need the crunchy texture.