This is due to the different climates; North India gets much colder so the food reflects the need for a heavier and richer diet, and spices such as cloves, cardamom, cinnamon, ginger, black pepper and nutmeg are used in cooking to keep the body warm, whereas in the hotter south, spices such as chilli and garlic are consumed in high amounts to help the body sweat and keep it cool.
This dish is found all over India. In the north, it is called "maa ki dal" and is made with the starchy and wholesome urad dal (black lentils) but in the south it is made with toor dal (yellow lentils), which have a very low starch content.
- 300 g (10½ oz/1¼ cups) urad dal (black lentils), soaked overnight in 2 litres (70 fl oz) water
- 100 g (3½ oz/½ cup) dried red kidney beans, soaked overnight (see Tip)
- 250 g (9 oz) tomatoes, roughly chopped, or 170 g (6 oz) tomato paste (concentrated puree)
- 100 g (3½ oz) butter, chopped
- 1 tbsp finely grated ginger
- 1 tbsp crushed garlic
- 1 tbsp vegetable or sunflower oil
- 1 tsp cumin seeds
- 1 red onion, thinly sliced
- 1 tsp red chilli powder
- halved cherry tomatoes, thin (pouring) cream, finely shredded ginger, finely chopped coriander (cilantro) and softened butter (optional), to garnish
Oven temperatures are for conventional; if using fan-forced (convection), reduce the temperature by 20˚C. | We use Australian tablespoons and cups: 1 teaspoon equals 5 ml; 1 tablespoon equals 20 ml; 1 cup equals 250 ml. | All herbs are fresh (unless specified) and cups are lightly packed. | All vegetables are medium size and peeled, unless specified. | All eggs are 55-60 g, unless specified.
You will need to begin this recipe 1 day ahead.
Drain and rinse the soaked dal and kidney beans, put in a large heavy-based saucepan over medium heat and cover with about 4 cm (1½ inches) of water. As soon as it comes to the boil, reduce the heat to as low as possible and cook for about 2 hours or until the lentils and beans are tender, adding a little more water if it is looking dry.
When the lentils are cooked, add the tomato, butter, ginger and garlic and cook for 20 minutes. The secret to a good dal is cooking over low heat over a long period.
Heat the oil in a small frying pan over medium heat, add the cumin seeds and when they turn semi-brown, add the onion and chilli powder and cook, stirring regularly, for 8 minutes. This is the tempering.
When the dal is cooked, add the hot tempering, season with salt, mix gently to combine and cook for 5 minutes. The colour should be dark brown.
Ladle into bowls, add a tomato half to each bowl, drizzle with a little cream and scatter over some ginger and coriander. For extra richness, add a small knob of butter to each bowl.
• Let the lentils soak overnight to save on preparation time. It's important to use dried and not tinned kidney beans, as tinned beans do not give the desired starchy texture to the dish.
Recipes and images courtesy of From India by Kumar and Suba Mahadevan, published by Murdoch Books, $59.99 photographer Mark Roper.