When Jonji and I were in India in 2012 (see the post on Kale Saag Paneer for more on that adventure), we visited the city of Varanasi at the tail end of our trip. We fit a lot in the short time we were there, the first night riding in a rickety little boat up the holy River Ganges to the place where the most sacred rituals are performed, the sky glowing pink as the sun dipped below the horizon. Orange and yellow flowers floated past our boat on top of the murky water, teaming with ash and the detritus of a city that has been around for centuries, while fires blazed on funeral pyres and priests performed rites of passage. The next day we visited several temples, many of which were decorated with strings of flowers, statuettes, and splashes of vibrant dust. At the end of our tour we walked behind our guide into the temple of Hanuman, the monkey god, where about a hundred little monkeys lounged, leaped, and skittered across the outdoor entryway. As we walked across the space, a monkey the size of a beagle charged towards me and I ran—it was either that or kick a monkey in a place that was literally created to honor said beings. I remember seeing it grabbing my (fortunately loose) pants as it ran with me, little teeth bared as it tried to bite through the fabric into my calf. Our guide thoughtfully threw his water bottle at it and it scattered, leaving me out of breath and a little shaken. It was actually quite terrifying at the time, but we’ve laughed about it quite a few times since.
India and its cuisine will always hold a special place in my heart (for more on the food we had on that trip, again, see the Saag Paneer post). I’ve always felt a little intimidated to venture into the wonderful world of Indian food because it’s so vast and often contains a lot of elements per meal (think rice, chutney, flatbread, daal, curries, sauces, etc.). While that can be true, often times one or two of those elements is more than enough. And sometimes a simple, warming bowl of daal is enough.
This black lentil daal is a little extra special. The kidney beans and lentils intermingle with the spices to create a complex, deep flavor that goes well with many other dishes—think other Indian food, of course, but it also goes well with runny eggs, baked tofu, on toast, or any other combination you want to try. Jonji sprinkled hot sauce on it one day and has decided that’s the way he’ll eat it forever more. This dish does take a decent amount of planning ahead, but each step is simple and, as long as you’re home, it will come together easily.
Black Lentil & Kidney Bean Daal
Serves 6 / Adapted from Chetna Makan’s book, Healthy Indian
300g black lentils
100g dried red kidney beans or similar dried beans
1700ml water (about 7 1/4 cups), plus more for soaking
1/2 tsp cardamom seeds or 3 black cardamom pods
2 tsp kosher salt
1 tbsp unsalted butter or ghee
4 garlic cloves, minced
1 small jalapeño, chopped (optional)
2 tbsp tomato paste
1 tbsp garam masala
1 tsp chili powder
chopped cilantro (optional)
The night before you intend to make the daal (or at least 5 hours before), soak the lentils and beans in plenty of cold water. Cover and leave over night.
The next morning, drain the beans and lentils and add them to a large pot along with 1700ml (about 7 1/4 cups) water, 1/2 tsp cardamom seeds, and 2 tsp kosher salt. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat, then turn the heat to low, partially cover with a lid, and cook for about an hour, until the beans are soft (but not falling apart).
In a large saucepan or pot, melt the 1 tbsp butter or ghee over medium heat. When it foams, add the garlic and pepper (if using) and cook for one minute. Stir in the 2 tbsp tomato paste, 1 tbsp garam masala, and 1 tsp chili powder and cook for another minute. Pour the lentils and whatever water is left from cooking into the spice mixture. Mix well, then turn the heat to low and cook for another hour, partially covered. Stir every 15-20 minutes to ensure nothing is sticking to the bottom of the pan, and add a little bit of boiling water if the mixture is looking too dry. The daal is done when it’s only slightly soupy—it will thicken more as it cools.
Top with chopped cilantro, if you’d like. Serve with any kind of Indian dish, but it’s particularly good with kale saag paneer, rice, and baked diced sweet potato. Also fantastic with a little hot sauce or chutney on top. Enjoy!