Daal: My Childhood Love Affair

Growing up in Pakistan, it was rare that a meal was all vegetarian at home. I was an anomaly in a family consisting of hardcore meat eaters; in fact, dare I say, a country of proud carnivores. To the surprise of my family, a meal of steaming daal with boiled white rice screamed comfort to me. And to this day, that has remained the same.

When I was in college in a quaint little town in Western Massachusetts, the nearest desi restaurant was at least 25 minutes away. The college cafeteria, however, served daal with rice. Make no mistake, the daal was nothing like my mother’s. In retrospect, it was actually pretty awful. But I still had it almost every other day. The bland Daal served over rice that was not Basmati was my comfort food *shock* through four years of college.

An anecdote worth mentioning here: my friend Maddie once casually commented on my daal lunch, “daal is made of peanut butter right?” I still smile thinking about that comment five years later.

Chris, who I befriended while doing a Pre-Law program at University of Amsterdam, was also perhaps amused by my love for daal. I often shared my desi food with him, and he was always curious to know what spices I was using in my daal. Some days back he requested a recipe for daal. I was slightly thrown off when he asked because I do not really have a recipe. I just cook daal without much thought and measurement.

So in the past weeks, I made daal a few times, mindfully using the spices and techniques, and tweaking them here and there with every attempt. Following is the recipe (sorry for the delay, Chris!), I thought made the perfect-test (as if perfect was not enough) daal.


  • Oil (1/3 cup)
  • Onions (3)
  • Garlic (3 tablespoon)
  • Tomatoes (4)
  • Chillies (4)
  • Salt (1 teaspoon)
  • Chilli powder (1 teaspoon)
  • Turmeric Powder (1/8 teaspoon)
  • Cumin powder (1/4 teaspoon)
  • Boullion Cube (1)
  • Mong daal aka yellow lentils (1 cup)
  • Masoor daal aka red lentils (1 cup)
  • Water (750 ml)


  • Finely chop onion, chillies, and tomatoes.
  • Heat oil in a pan and fry onions until golden brown.
  • Add minced garlic to the onions and sauté for two minutes.
  • When the garlic and onion are fragrant, add chopped tomatoes and chillies.
  • After a minute or so, add all spices and bouillon cube.
  • When oil separates (about 10 minutes) from the mixture, add daal – both mong and masoor. Fry for two minutes and add water.
  • Cover the mixture and let it come to a boil. After the first boil, set the heat to medium and let the daal(s) soften and combine.
  • Keep stirring every 10 minutes or as needed. Add water if there is need. After about 30-35 minutes, daal will be a nice, thick consistency and beautiful yellow color.
  • Serve with boiled basmati rice or naan! Or, have it like soup — even better! 😉

Want to take it up a notch? 🙂 Heat four tablespoons of oil. Add a teaspoon of cumin, 4 cloves of garlic, and quarter of a finely sliced onion. Once the mixture sizzles and onion has browned, add it to the daal and stir. Top with chopped coriander. Yum, extra goodness!


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