Split Pea Curry


The Indian name for lentils in general is "dhal." But dhal can also mean a highly-spiced dish made with split beans, peas, or lentils flavored with tomatoes, onions, and other aromatics. There are literally thousands of variations for cooking dhal, all of which are delicious served with Basmati rice or chapatis. Indian people eat dhals almost every day, often along with a meat or vegetable curry.

  • 8 ounces yellow split peas (chana dhal), picked through, rinsed and drained
  • 5 cups water
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground turmeric
  • 1 tablespoon fresh ginger, peeled and finely grated
  • 2 teaspoons salt, or to taste
  • 2 to 3 tablespoons ghee*
  • 1/2 teaspoon cumin seeds
  • 2 cloves garlic, peeled and chopped
  • 1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper, or to taste
  • 3 tablespoons fresh cilantro, chopped, for garnish
Combine split peas and water in a heavy-bottomed sauce pan over medium-high heat. Bring to a boil, then skim off all foam that rises to the top of the pan.

Reduce to a simmer and add turmeric and ginger; cover, leaving lid very slightly ajar. Simmer gently until peas are tender and just beginning to break down, about an hour. (Note: If necessary to prevent drying out, add a bit more water during cooking.) Stir every 5 minutes or so during the last 20 minutes to help prevent sticking. Stir in salt, then taste and adjust seasoning as needed.

Heat ghee in a small sauté pan over medium heat; add cumin seeds, then garlic to the hot ghee. Sauté until garlic pieces are lightly browned, then add cayenne pepper. Immediately remove pan from heat and pour its entire contents – ghee and spices – into the pan with the dhal.

Stir to mix, then top with cilantro. The dhal should be the consistency of a saucy, moderately thick puree.

Notes:
* To Make Ghee: Melt 1 pound of unsalted butter in a small, heavy-bottomed sauce pan over low heat. Let it simmer very gently for 10 to 30 minutes, depending upon water content of butter. As soon as the white, milky residue turns to golden particles (watch carefully), strain ghee through several layers of cheesecloth. Cool, then pour into a clean, sanitized jar and cover. Properly made ghee does not need refrigeration.

Serving Suggestion: Serve with any Indian meal.

Make It Ahead: Make up to 2 days in advance. You may need to add additional water when reheating. Flavor actually improves the next day.

Adapted from "Madhur Jaffrey’s Indian Cooking," published by Barron’s Educational Series, Inc.

Yield: 4-6 servings