At the end of this month, the Burma Superstar cookbook finally hits its on-sale date. I have the actual book, but for whatever reason, I keep cooking from the black-and-white galleys. Galleys are basically the pre-first edition copy of the book. It's a fancier version of printing out the pages on a home printer and then getting in bound at Kinko's. Galleys aren't usuallye finished (in mine, a few places have cut-off text because I had yet to edit down a few paragraphs, and there's a lot of "see page 000"). But because the galleys have been on my bookshelf for a while, and because the pages are easy to write on, I keep cooking form it. It's almost as though it's been broken in so I don't get worried about spilling something on it. I'll get over that with the actual book, but for now, I'll stay with the black and white. I know, kind of weird.
But about this dal. I still have a pantry filled with turmeric, paprika, cumin, mustard seeds, and several other spices remaining from recipe testing. It's fair to say that they have earned a spot among the permanent inventory. Having these spices and some lentils on hand also makes this recipe the ultimate I-need-to-make-something-but-nothing-is-in-the-fridge dish. (I was out in Louisville for the IACP conference over the weekend, the produce drawers of the refrigerator were roomier than they've been in weeks.) This particular recipe isn't in the Burma book, but it could be served right alongside many of the dishes in it. Lentils and split peas are cooked all over Myanmar, either fried or cooked until soft. While yellow split peas are the best for frying, at home I like to use red lentils for making dal because they cook so much faster.
A few notes before starting: The key when making this recipe is having all of the shallots, garlic, and ginger ready to go before you start frying the mustard seeds and cumin. The spices can burn if you're occupied at the cutting board. By using coconut oil, this dal veers more south Indian-- in Myanmar, vegetable and peanut oils are more common. So of you use vegetable oil, just call it a Burmese-style dal. If you happen to have curry leaves on hand, add them right after adding the shallots, garlic, and ginger--it gives the lentils a particular savory quality that makes them even better. They also freeze well. But here I didn't have them and I didn't sweat it.
Red lentil dal
Makes 2 2/3 cups
Dress the dal up with a little cilantro, and even some mint, if you'd like. In this photo, I added parsley because it's all I had. A pinch of garam masala or chile flakes at the end also gives it a deeper, spiced note.
- 1 cup red lentils
- 3 cups water
- 3/4 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1/2 teaspoon turmeric
- 1/2 teaspoon paprika
- pinch of dried chile flakes
- 1/3 cup sliced shallots or onions
- 2 tablespoons minced garlic
- 1 tablespoon minced ginger (optional)
- 1 tablespoon coconut oil or vegetable oil
- 1/4 teaspoon black mustard seeds
- 1/4 teaspoon cumin seeds
- 1 lime, cut into wedges
- Handful of chopped herbs, like cilantro
In a 4 to 6-quart pot, stir the dal and water together. Season with salt, turmeric, paprika, and chile flakes. Bring to a boil, lower to a gentle simmer, and cook until the lentils have absorbed most of the water, 12 to 15 minutes.
Meanwhile, prepare the shallots, garlic, and ginger.
In a sauté pan, melt the coconut oil over medium-high heat. Add the mustard seeds and fry until they begin to pop, about 30 seconds. Add the cumin and cook briefly until the cumin becomes fragrant, 15 seconds. Swirl the pan, removing from the heat if the cumin starts getting too hot. Add the shallots, garlic, and ginger and cook over medium heat until the shallot soften.
Pour the sautéed onions and spices into the pot and star to combine. Simmer over gentle heat for a few more minutes. The dal is best if allowed to sit for 20 minutes before serving. Before serving, mix in some lime juice and sprinkle with cilantro.