Deriving from the Sanskrit verb ‘to split’ (dāl), the ever-present powerhouse ingredient of home cooking from the Himalayan mountains of Pakistan, India and Nepal through to the plains of Bangladesh and beaches of Sri Lanka, is dal.
Made from dried, split pulses (with over fifty varieties across the sub-continent, including beans, lentils and peas) the countless number of homemade recipes is matched only by the amount of people cooking it.
Homemade dal differs from family to family throughout south Asia, as much as salad, salsa and sausage vary in Latin America and Europe.
Whether adding salt, ginger, turmeric, tamarind, tadka or tarka, you can bet your bottom chapati that no dal is the same as the next. Which is surprising given that the process of cooking dal is pretty similar across the continent.
Dal has been the staple diet behind most of my trips to the region. Whether on a budget or enjoying a banquet, it remains one of my firm favourites. The following preparation and cooking process were simply explained when I was last in Sri Lanka.
- Wash the dal 3 or 4 times, before leaving to soak.
- Add water and turmeric, gently bringing to the boil until it turns mushy yellow.
- Take second frying pan, heat oil and fry seeds (cumin/mustard/fenugreek), adding curry leaves and onions.
- When onions caramelise, add to cooked dal with salt and milk.
- Cook for another five minutes and hey presto – it’s ready for serving.
- Prepare frying pan for obligatory roti (bread), naan or chapati.