This dal is my and every other Gujarati’s taste of home. One spoonful and I am transported. It has a more complex taste than most dals due to the subtle jabs of star anise, curry leaves, and lemon, all rounded off with the sweetness of honey. Because of the time it takes to soak and cook toor lentils, this is more of a weekend dish in our house, although a daily staple across Gujarat.
Serves 4 as part of a main course
1½ cups yellow toor lentils
2 star anise
½ teaspoon mustard seeds
¾ teaspoon cumin seeds
4 whole cloves
1 Indian green chile, slit lengthways
2 sprigs of fresh curry leaves
3 large ripe tomatoes, chopped
½ teaspoon ground turmeric
11/3 teaspoons salt
2½ teaspoons honey
1½ tablespoons lemon juice
¼ cup red-skinned peanuts, crushed
Soak the toor lentils in cold water overnight, or in warm water for an hour before cooking. When soaked, wash the lentils in a few changes of cold water until the water runs clear, then place in a saucepan and cover with 1¾ inches of cold water. Add the star anise and set to boil over medium heat. The lentils will take around an hour to become tender (so you can crush them easily with the back of a spoon), and you may need to remove the scum that forms, using a large spoon. While the lentils cook, you can prepare the tempering.
Put 2 tablespoons of oil into a frying pan over medium heat. When hot, add the mustard seeds, cumin seeds, cloves, green chile, and 6 curry leaves. Stir-fry for 2 to 3 minutes, until you can smell the spices, then add the tomatoes. Cook for around 5 minutes, until the tomatoes become soft and paste-like, then add the turmeric, salt, honey, and lemon juice. Cook for a couple of minutes, then turn off the heat.
When the lentils are cooked, whisk them to thicken, then add the tempering. The mixture will be quite thick, and Gujarati dal is normally thin, so add at least ¾ cup of hot water (or as you prefer), then simmer for a further 15 minutes. Check that the salt, lemon, chile, and honey are to your liking, then take off the heat.
Put another tablespoon of oil into a separate frying pan and, when hot, add a sprig of curry leaves and the crushed nuts. Fry until the curry leaves crisp up and the peanuts brown, then take off the heat. Transfer the dal to a serving dish and scatter over the curry leaves and the peanuts. Serve with steamed basmati rice, a green leafy vegetable curry like the savoy cabbage, black kale, and potato subji here, and a side of yogurt and pickles.