If you are craving dal but time is tight, use your pressure cooker to make Food To Glow’s healthy, flavour-jammed tarka dal in less than 20 minutes. Yes, 20 minutes. Vegan Indian food made easy and family-friendly. You will also find a top tip for getting the most nutrition from turmeric.
This may verge of heresy, but I prefer dal made in a pressure cooker to traditional, slow cooked dal.
There, I’ve said it.
The preference is not based on taste. Having made this exact recipe in a slow cooker, on the hob (where I almost always burn the lentils!), and in my new electric pressure cooker, I can vouch that the flavour is just about the same for all methods. Give or take a burnt lentil.
Contrary to what I previously believed and practised, pressure cooking is more than just a speedy way to cook lentils, beans, hard vegetables and rice, but is in fact a viable and delicious way to cook a whole recipe.
Of course you knew that already, didn’t you?
I’ve always been a bit nervous of my manual pressure cooker. Purchased in my first year of marriage, my 28 year-old pot has been well used, but not particularly well-loved. Getting the timing right with this hunk of stainless steel has always been my culinary Achilles’ heel. Too little pressure and lentils are indigestible bullets. A fraction too much and black beans are only fit for dips. And then of course there are the scary sounds it makes as well as tales of exploding pressure cookers that heighten my unease. My new electric 12-in-1 digital pressure cooker from Pressure King Pro and Debenhams is completely safe, and easier to get to grips with, but still with room for experimentation. Such as with this dal.
There are as many dal recipes as there are cooks who make dal. I may exaggerate just a tad, but honestly there are scads of recipes out there. Many use quick-cooking red/orange lentils, but I prefer the naturally buttery tasting – and longer cooking – channa dal. These split yellow peas, that are also called bengal gram (and undoubtedly many other names too), are the perfect pulse to go in your pressure cooker as they take a bit of babysitting (imo) on the hob. I always find they take longer than any directions stipulate. Cue: frustration.
Another difference with this recipe is that I use the pressure cooker – sans lid – to make the all important tarka for the dal.
No hob. No pans.
In case you are wondering, tarka is a fried seasoning of Asian herbs and spices, and can be added with the plainly cooked lentils, or – my preference – swirled in just before serving. The latter method keeps it from being diluted down in the cooking. Sometimes I will put in half while the lentils cook, and finish the dish off with the remaining tarka. Pulses are rather underrated – perhaps because they are so cheap – but with the addition of fat-sauteed earthy warm spices and addictively haunting curry leaves – they are elevated to a craveable dish.
Regardless of how the tarka is employed, you will get a creamy-textured bowl of nourishing comfort that delivers on health, taste and affordability. Not only is this a brilliantly cheap and sunnily cheerful family meal, it is perfect student food, too.
A pot of tarka dal can be stretched to last for a few meals – dollop onto baked potatoes/sweet potatoes, wrap in a chapati with kachumber for lunches, let down with stock for a no-brainer soup, mix with a bit of gram flour (chickpea flour) to make stunning savoury pancakes or quasi pakora. I could go on. But I won’t because I am hungry. And that bowl of leftover dal isn’t going to eat itself…
Creamy Tomato and Spinach Tarka Dal
If you are craving dal but time is tight, use your pressure cooker to make this healthy, flavour-jammed tarka dal in less than 20 minutes. Yes, 20 minutes! I also give you a top tip for getting the most from your turmeric.
2 tbsp coconut oil, ghee or other oil
1 onion or equivalent shallots, peeled and thinly sliced
2 garlic cloves, peeled and sliced
1 tsp salt
2 tsp cumin seeds
1 tsp black mustard seeds (I used a mix of yellow and black as that is what I had)
2 tsp garam masala
1/2 tsp amchoor powder/dried mango powder – optional
1/2 tsp asofoetida powder – optional but very authentic
1/2 tsp ground fenugreek
10 dried curry leaves
1 tsp chilli flakes or 2 whole dried Karshmiri chillies (this is not hot in the context of this recipe; add more if you wish)
600g channa dal (split yellow peas/bengal gram), ideally soaked for one hour and throughly rinsed (this makes it easier for some people to digest them)
1 litre water
1 finger of fresh turmeric root, washed and finely grated (skin on is fine) OR 2 tsp ground turmeric
1/2 tsp freshly ground pepper (the piperine here activates the curcumin in the turmeric)
5 cm piece gingerroot, finely grated (skin on is fine)
4 peeled garlic cloves, finely grated
4 ripe tomatoes, chopped OR one tin of best quality tomatoes (I used Cirio brand)
3 tbsp tomato puree
200g spinach leaves
One half lemon, more to serve if you wish
Garnish: (coconut) yogurt, chilli flakes or sliced fresh chili, coconut flakes, leaf coriander
Optional main ingredient: for a more coconutty flavour do add about 4 tbsp of cococnut milk powder, or tip in a tin of coconut milk with the spinach and tomato puree.
1. Heat the oil in your pressure cooker with the lid off (or use a separate pan). Add the onion and saute for about three minutes, then add the garlic and stir for another minute before adding the spices and salt. Saute until you can smell them come to life – about two minutes. Remove from the pan and pop in a little bowl, covering it with a lid or clingfilm. If you can, spend longer cooking the onions to amp their sweet flavour. Or, if you are the kind of person who keeps frozen caramelised onions in the freezer, definitely add some here. Unfortunately I’m not that kind of person.
2. Now add the channa dal, water, turmeric, ground pepper, ginger, tomatoes and garlic to the pressure cooker pot. Lock the lid and, if using a Pressure King Pro, set the release valve to CLOSED and the programme on STEW, adjusting down so it reads “10 minutes”. Otherwise, follow your equipment’s directions for pulse or stew dishes – probably up to 10 minutes for any recipe programme, or five minutes on high for a manual pressure cooker. I wanted a creamy result, but do it for a little less (about eight minutes) if you want some of the texture of the channa dal.
3. When the time is up, do the release as recommended by your manufacturer. For my pressure cooker I flipped the release valve to OPEN and waited for the hissing to subside – all the while it continues to cook. When you are able to open the lid stir in the spinach and tomato puree, keep the lid off, and heat for another few minutes, stirring. Just before serving whirl in the tarka and juice of half a lemon. Taste and adjust as needed. Sometimes I will add a touch of honey and soy sauce.
3. Serve with any of the garnishes as well as steamed Basmati rice, cauliflower “rice”, chapati or even boiled potatoes.
Lentil Nutrition: the one thing we all know about lentils is that they are full of health-promoting fibre, but did you also know that a one-cup cooked serving gives us 90% of our RDA of folate, 37% of iron, 23% of zinc, 36% protein (but we need to eat them with a carbohydrate to fully use it), 21% of potassium and 10% magnesium?
If you have trouble digesting beans, peas and legumes try cooking them with a strip of kombu. This interesting sea vegetable literally takes the wind out of lentils’ sails. It also has a rich and welcome umami taste that will add depth to any bean dish. It will disintegrate during cooking. If you avoid beans, this is definitely a trick to try!
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**Disclosure: This was not a commissioned recipe, however I was given products by Herefordshire-based WholesomeOnline.co.uk , and Debenhams to try. I was not required to write about these products, but as I love them I wanted to share this recipe with you. This post contains an affiliate link to Debenhams.**