I feel like January is flying by, and I want to slow it down. Why the rush, 2016? I am certainly excited for different projects and opportunities coming down the way, but I also want to cherish those day-to-day moments that make me most happy. The quiet, dim winter mornings, the lingering over the kitchen table, the cozy evenings on the couch, I want those all to stay around a bit longer. 2016, however, seems to have other plans. To keep up with the moving and shaking, I turn to this hearty, nourishing dal that becomes something quite magical in the slow cooker.
Traditionally, dal refers to a spiced legume-based dish, often seasoned with Indian aromatics such as turmeric, ginger, cumin, coriander, and a whole host of other goodies. For as many different spice variations that exist, there are almost as many different legume options. From split red lentils (masoor dal) to black lentils (urad dal), split chickpeas (chana dal) to split mung beans (moong dal), and the list goes on. Despite these differences, everyone seems to agree that dal should be rather mushy, as in, there is even a special whisk that exists to completely stir the dal into a mushy oblivion.
I admit that I take a few liberties with this dal. I use legumes, some traditional Indian spices, and embrace the beyond al dente texture of dal, but I get a little creative to turn this dish into something you could serve to people you are trying to impress. I originally mixed red lentils with mung beans the first time I made this because I had just a handful of each, but I found l loved the textural contrast between the softer red lentil and more substantial mung bean. Grated carrot and coconut milk add a mellow sweetness, and tahini and soy sauce get swirled in at the end for a rich umami boost. Why tahini? Namely because I find an excuse to put it in everything, but also because I love the rich creaminess it lends. I tried simplifying the recipe by just tossing in all of the spices in the slow cooker without taking the time to bloom them, but I found that the extra 2 minutes warmed in the oil made a noticeable difference to the depth of the dish.
Please do not get intimated by the ingredient list, as much of the process is hands-off. And your reward? Days and days of rich, nourishing dal full of fiber and protein-rich legumes and anti-inflammatory properties. This freezes beautifully, so portion out a few days worth and then pop it in the freezer for easy reheating when it is just too cold to venture out of the house.
Dal is not a glamorous food, no matter how you serve it. I am not promising an eye-catcher of a dish, but I think my additions elevate it a notch or two.
Slow Cooker Mung Bean and Red Lentil Dal
1 1/2 cups mung beans, soaked overnight and drained
1 1/2 cups red lentils
1 small yellow onion, diced
1 28 ounce can diced tomatoes with juices
3 carrots, peeled and grated
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 inch piece fresh ginger, peeled and grated
1/2 serrano pepper, seeds removed
2 teaspoons turmeric powder
1 bay leaf
1 teaspoon salt
3 cardamom pods
2 tablespoons coconut oil or ghee (olive oil will also work)
2 teaspoons cumin seeds
2 teaspoons fenugreek seeds (optional but delicious)
1 1/2 teaspoons ground coriander
1 teaspoon chili powder
6 cups water
1 cup coconut milk
2 tablespoons low sodium soy sauce or tamari
2 tablespoons tahini
salt and pepper, to taste
lots of fresh cilantro, for serving
plain yogurt, for serving
In a slow cooker, add soaked mung beans, red lentils, tomatoes, onion, carrots, garlic, ginger, serrano pepper, turmeric, bay leaf, salt, and cardamom.
Heat oil or ghee in small skillet over medium heat. Add cumin seeds and toast until fragrant, about 1-2 minutes. Add fenugreek, ground coriander, and chili powder and stir for 30 seconds to allow spices to bloom. Add to slow cooker, stir in water, and stir everything to coat. Cover with lid and allow to cook on low for 10 hours. Lift lid and stir once during cooking process to make sure everything coats evenly.
When done, remove bay leaf and serrano pepper. Transfer 3 cups of mixture to blender, add coconut milk, tahini, and soy sauce, and blend until smooth. Return mixture to slow cooker and stir to combine. Alternatively, use an immersion blender to puree some of dal in slow cooker when adding remaining ingredients. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Serve with cilantro, plain yogurt, and a grain of your choice. Enjoy! Makes 10-12 servings.