Necessity is the mother of invention. That is why I am posting a slow cooker technique for making dal (Indian-style lentils), something I normally cook in a stovetop pressure cooker, for you today. The whole story behind why I wound up making slow cooker dal is a little ridiculous and frankly will have an effect on what I post on this blog for the foreseeable future (possibly months). I don’t have gas in my building right now because of some repairs that need to be made, and so… my stove is out of commission except for when I stack dishes on top of it.
Quite a quandary for someone with a food blog to be in. And of course, this actually happened the weekend I was having my cousin and his wife over for lunch (the same day I made the kachumber recipe I posted last month). And I had a ton of food in the fridge and had full intentions to cook dal, which wouldn’t spoil in my cabinets like the refrigerated food would, but it was supposed to be part of a big meal.
Luckily for me, I had friends across the street that let me use their kitchen for everything that required gas. (It was an interesting adventure and I’m sure I’ll be laughing about it all someday). The meal was saved. But I also didn’t want to carry every single thing I needed to make across the street, so I busted out my slow cooker, which was the only other electric cooking tool I had on hand at the time. (I have since added an Instant Pot to my kitchen — there will be recipes for that coming soon, perhaps months of recipes).
I determined the appropriate cooking time after checking the internet and consulting my mother, and I ultimately cooked the same family-style dal in the slow cooker that I started cooking a couple of years ago in the pressure cooker. The texture ended up a little different and I used more water from the start than I normally do when pressure cookering the dal (I normally add some more water and simmer it for a while once the lentils are cooked when doing that), but the essence remained the same.
Dal, the word used in India to describe the dish you see here, as well as various types of lentils in their original form, is considered a basic staple of many Indian meals. It works well served with a variety of other dishes, and sometimes it really can just be a meal on its own, topping some rice or accompanied by some type of roti. It’s nutritious comfort food.
For those of you who don’t have stovetop pressure cookers or even Instant Pots, but would like to make some dal, using the slow cooker could be a handy alternative to staring at your stove for long periods of time. Similarly, you may find yourself with a full stove while cooking for a crowd and having the slow cooker option would make it easier to tackle the dish.
So I thought I’d post how to make it here.
A Slight Disclaimer: I am very used to just referring to the lentils here as “yellow dal” or “red dal.” My parents labeled some jars for me with the Hindi versions of the names and I’ve done my best to make sure I’m accurately translating what they’d be called in English. I’ve included the Hindi names my parents use as well. If, however, you find an error with what I’ve published in translation, please feel free to chime in! (You can refer to my photo of the dry lentils above to make sure things look right).
- Serves about 6 to 8
- 2/3 cup dry red lentils (dhuli masoor dal)
- 2/3 cup dry small yellow lentils (yellow moong dal)
- 6 to 8 cloves garlic, roughly minced
- 1 to 1 1/2 teaspoon of roughly minced ginger
- 1 to 2 green chilies, thinly sliced (depending on your comfort level)
- 2 teaspoons turmeric powder
- 2 teaspoons salt
- 3 1/3 cups of water
- Handful of cilantro, chopped
- 1/4 to 1/3 small red onion, sliced
- Pinch of red chili powder (I use the Indian variety, which is pretty strong)
- Before I start cooking dal, I like to spread the lentils out on a plate and quickly sift through them to make sure no stones got mixed in. (I feel like this doesn't happen as often as it did but I still check).
- 1. Rinse the lentils once you know they're safe in water until the water is clear. Drain them. (I usually do this right in a strainer).
- 2. Toss them into the slow cooker. Add the specified cups of water (you can add slightly more if you want the dal to be a little thinner and more liquid-like).
- 3. Add in the turmeric, ginger, garlic, salt and chilies (if using). Stir everything so that the ingredients are evenly distributed.
- 4. Cover your slow cooker and cook the dal on high for four hours.
- 5. Shortly before it's time to turn the slow cooker off and serve the dal, put a bit of oil in a frying pan, add your onions to the mix and stir them over the stove from time to time until they begin to turn a little golden brown. Add a pinch of chili powder as you finish cooking the onions, then turn off the flame. This is your simple tadka.
- 6. When your dal is ready, stir it a few times, then add your tadka, as well as the chopped cilantro, to it and stir again. The dal is now ready to serve. You can add a little more salt as needed.
- Learned from Mama and Papa Rad.
- Dal tends to be kinda mushy and while it keeps well for a few days in the fridge, it can become very thick over time. You can always add a little water to the mix when reheating and stir well.
- You can have the dal with some rice or some type of naan or roti. It can accompany additional dishes as well.
Dal is such a warm, basic staple — it’s a classic. And this band and its tunes, while all released in modern times, have such a classic soulful quality, they just feel like the right fit for spending some time prepping some ingredients and having them slow cook in your home. This is a good track, but you should honestly just give yourself some time with the album itself and relax as your dal cooks in the background. You won’t be sorry.