Dal: The Basics

Prep and cook time:

25 minutes


200g lentils

1 tsp mustard seeds

1 tsp turmeric powder

1 tsp cumin seeds

1 tsp chopped garlic

1 tsp chopped ginger

1 chopped green chilli

2 tsp chopped tomatoes

2 tsp chopped red onion

1 tbsp sunflower oil

dash of lemon juice


Stir in the chopped coriander at the very end. If you add it too soon, it will turn a dirty green colour.


1. Wash the lentils in warm water so all the dirt comes off. Skim off the water. Refresh the lentils in cold water and soak for five to six minutes. Put them in a pot and add one teaspoon of turmeric powder. Cover with water and bring to the boil until they are soft and broken.

2. In a separate pan heat one tablespoon of oil. Add the cumin seeds and mustard seeds. They should pop and crackle. Add the garlic, onion, ginger, green chilli, and tomato, plus a pinch of salt to taste.

3. Cook until just soft. Then blend this mix into the daal and stir. Taste it to see if the dal needs more salt. I add a dash of lemon juice here and then stir in some chopped coriander. I also like to sprinkle more fresh coriander on top of the dal before bringing the dish to the table.


Vineet Bhatia pays tribute to the simple – and spiritual – bowl of dal

“If the world were going to end in ten minutes, I would eat a simple bowl of daal. It’s my favourite food in the world. I think dal is one of the biggest comfort foods in India – it’s so satisfying. I eat it with a piece of flatbread or just some boiled rice. Fantastic. It’s also very nutritious and filling.

The brilliance of dal is that it has a very neutral flavour on its own so you can add all sorts of spices to it, or vegetables or meat. I like to use red and yellow lentils together. Both have different textures and flavours so they blend well.

My mother used to make dal with just yellow lentils, and we’d tell her, ‘No, add the red lentils too!’ I never watched my mother cook this dish because I wasn’t interested in food as a kid and never went into the kitchen. But I remember that the smell would enthral me.

I find that eating dal is relaxing, and takes me back to memories of basic eating at home. I have it for lunch sometimes because it gives me energy during the day. Other times, after I finish work at night, I have a bowl of dal and a piece of bread to wrap up the day. It makes me happy. Dal soothes the soul. You could even say it was spiritual.”

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Onion tomato masala

The mother of all sauces in Indian cuisine. It can be the base for anything and binds the dish together. It’s one of the easiest sauces to make which I use in all my restaurants around the world. Cooked chicken, meat, or vegetables can be tossed in the sauce. Then add cumin, chili, coriander – up to you.

Ingredients: 1kg red onion, 500g chopped fresh tomatoes, 60g ginger garlic paste (see below), 250ml sunflower oil, 1tbsp Kashmiri mirch powder, 1tsp coriander powder, ½ tsp turmeric, 4pcs green cardamom, 2pcs black cardamom, one cinnamon stick, two bay leaves, salt

Method: Heat oil in a pan. Add whole spices. As they begin to crack, add onions, ginger garlic paste and sauté for eight minutes on high. Turn the heat down, add spices and fry for a few seconds. Add tomatoes and sauté for five minutes. Once the water evaporates, it’s done.

Ginger garlic paste

A very good marinade for kebabs. This paste adds body to your dishes. Slow-cooked lamb gets a smoothness from the paste. Rub it into meat or kebabs and leave it for ten minutes. It opens the pores of the meat, which enhances the flavour.

Ingredients: 100g ginger, peeled and chopped, 100g garlic, peeled and chopped, 50ml sunflower oil (you can use water but the paste won’t last as long)

Method: Blend the garlic and ginger in a food processor, adding small amounts of oil as you go.

Yoghurt marinade

This marinade gives the dish a nice feeling in your mouth; it sticks to your lips and palate and makes you want to take the second bite quickly. We add no more than four or five spices to the yoghurt: salt, turmeric powder, garam masala, red chili, cumin powder. Add your poultry or lamb and leave it for at least six hours. The yoghurt holds the spices together and tenderises the meat.

Ingredients: 100g Greek yoghurt, 300g natural yoghurt, 25g roasted gram flour, 20g ginger garlic paste (see above), 8g lemon juice, 10g salt, 10g Kashmiri mirch powder, 4g garam masala, 6g cumin powder, 4g kasoori methi powder, 10ml sunflower oil

Method: In a bowl combine the powders and flour. Gently fold in the yoghurt. Stir in lemon juice and oil.

Cashew nut creamy paste

This is from the northern part of India where the winters are cold and harsh. The cashew nuts are soaked in hot water and then whizzed in a blender to form a paste. Cashews have their own thickening quality, which makes the dishes rich and warming. It makes a velvety, luxurious sauce which you can add to anything.

Ingredients: 250g broken cashew nuts, 100ml water

Method: Boil the cashews for ten minutes. Drain and wash in cold water. Whizz them in a blender adding a little water at a time to get a smooth paste.

These pastes can be kept in the fridge for one week