Here is a combination of two old and beloved legumes—whole mung beans, which originated in India, and whole red lentils, which came to India from the Arab world in ancient times—cooked together with seasonings used in North India today for meat dishes. Strangely enough, I came across this dish on an Indian airline. Who would have thought?

    For a festive dinner, serve the dal with a vegetable or two of your choice, rice or a flatbread, and any salad or chutney you desire. A yogurt relish is definitely required. For a family meal, just one other vegetable, rice or bread, and plain yogurt would be fine.

    Remember that a dal may be as thick or thin as you like. Generally, dals should be thicker when eaten with bread and thinner when eaten with rice. Indian cooks tend to thin the latter a bit more by adding extra water at the end.

    SERVES 6–8

    • ¾ cup mung beans
    • ¾ cup whole red lentils (sabut masoor)
    • 1 teaspoon salt, or more to taste
    • 5 tablespoons olive or peanut oil
    • A 2-inch cinnamon stick
    • 2 bay leaves
    • 5 cardamom pods (you can put these in a small muslin bag for easy removal)
    • 1 medium onion (about 7 oz.), peeled and finely chopped
    • A 3-inch piece of fresh ginger, peeled and finely grated
    • 5 cloves garlic, peeled and crushed
    • 3 tablespoons tomato purée
    • 1 tablespoon ground coriander
    • 2 teaspoons ground cumin
    • 1 teaspoon ground turmeric
    • ½–1 teaspoon nice red chili powder, according to taste
    • 1 teaspoon garam masala
    • Dollop of ghee (clarified butter) or ordinary butter (optional)

    1. Combine the mung beans and red lentils in a sieve, then pick over and wash them. Place them in a heavy-based pan, add 7 cups of water, and bring to a boil. Boil for 2 minutes, then cover and set aside, off the heat, for 1 hour. Bring to a boil again, lower the heat, cover, and simmer gently (there should always be a few bubbles rising) for 1½ hours. The beans will be very, very tender. Mix in the salt and set aside.

    2. Put the oil in a medium, preferably nonstick, frying pan and set over medium-high heat. When hot, add the cinnamon stick, bay leaves, and cardamom pods. Stir once or twice, then quickly add the onions and fry for 7–8 minutes or until they begin to brown at the edges. Add the ginger and garlic and stir for another 2 minutes. Stir in the tomato purée a tablespoon at a time, then add the coriander, cumin, turmeric, and chili powder. Stir for 2 minutes. Now add 1 cup of water, stir well, and simmer gently for 5 minutes. Pick out all the whole spices—the cinnamon, bay leaves, and cardamom—and discard them. Mix in the garam masala.

    3. When the beans have finished cooking, stir the spice paste into the dal. Taste and add more salt if you wish. The dal should be as thick as you like, so add more hot water if you want it thinner. Just before eating, ladle it into a serving dish and drop in a knob of ghee or butter (if using).