The recipe itself is a thoroughly American bastardization of an Indian dish, dal. "Dal" is just the Sanskrit verb, to split, and as a dish it refers to split lentils or beans with other ingredients. My basic recipe for dal consists of the following:
- Between 1.5 and 2 cups of lentils or beans.
- About two cups of petite diced tomatoes.
- Two onions of some kind, minced.
- One fairly small ginger root, grated.
- One fairly large head of garlic, crushed.
- Three tablespoons of curry powder.
- An additional ingredient for flavor.
- Rice, about 1.7 cups before cooking.
The recipe is very simple: the lentils/beans, onions, tomatoes, and the additional ingredient all go in the crock pot in the evening. Typically I mince up the onions, pour one tablespoon of vegetable oil over them, and then microwave them for about five minutes to get them started, which is a shortcut I learned from the America's Test Kitchen easy prep crock pot cookbook. Then I throw that plus the tomatoes, pulses and additional ingredient in the crock pot, and add a little boiling water to get things started and give the pulses something to absorb as they cook. The crock pot goes on low, and chugs away for nine or ten hours. In the morning, I add the ginger, garlic and curry powder, let everything cook for about another sixty minutes, put the rice in my rice cooker, and then assemble in small tupperware containers five servings of two-thirds of a cup of rice topped by a fifth of the contents of the crock pot. All five go in the refrigerator for a day, and then I backpack them to work one at a time for my lunch.
There are four variables in the recipe: beans/lentils, onions, the additional ingredient, and rice. The different rices don't really change the flavor much, although I suppose they do make a marginal difference in the texture, so I just vary those often enough that they help to diversify my diet a bit. For the onions, there are only four options: white, yellow, red and sweet. So far, I've only found that sweet onions make a big difference in the flavor of the dish; the other three all just taste onion-y. I do have favorites among the beans/lentils -- red lentils are what I like best, even though I think a lot of folks would find them too mushy after cooking.
The biggest variable is the "additional ingredient." That can be anything. It can be vegetables, fruit, mushrooms, nuts, coconut milk, or whatever else I can imagine blending with the core recipe. So far, here are the variants that I've enjoyed enough to post them here for the sake of not forgetting them:
- Mango dal -- red lentils, sweet onions, mango salsa. Oh my heavens, this is tasty. When I make a batch of this, I daydream about lunch all morning. If it wasn't important to keep a balanced diet, I'd just fix this every week and consider the matter settled.
- Chipotle dal -- white onions, three cans of chipotle peppers, button mushrooms, beans instead of lentils. I stumbled upon this about three weeks ago, and was very pleasantly surprised how much I enjoyed it. I can't pin down why the occasional mushroom made the chipotle so much more enjoyable, but it certainly did.
It's cheap, tasty, unbelievably easy to make, and healthy two different ways: it rounds out my diet and also helps to keep my weight in check. There are no down sides to it. It's one of the best discoveries I've made in my adult life.