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Tamarind Dal & Rice

Asma Khan

Lesson time 26 min

Asma serves this lentil and rice dish in her restaurants and loves it for its complex simplicity, a sweet and sour dish with balanced flavors. 

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– Rice and dal is the food that all of us grew up eating. Dal for most families is something that you will have every day. It’s considered a very humble dish. It goes with all our food. This is what kind of gives us peace. And, you know, if you’re English you’ll understand, this is your cup of tea. You know, there are just endless varieties of dal: there’s winter dal, there’s summer dal. You know, not to have dal on your table is very unusual. So the dal that I’m gonna be cooking now and teaching you how to cook is the easy comfort food that I grew up with, very, very easy and very quick to make. I’m making the dal that I love, and actually serve in my restaurant as well, it’s tamarind dal, which in Bengal is called dal bhat. It’s a bit more watery, so you’ll find this is more soupy, it’s with rice and you know we eat with our hands. First I’m gonna check to see if there are any impurities in the dal. I know it’s no longer necessary because, you know, you don’t get dals that have got impurities in them, but it’s still better to check. Okay, so it’s always worth going through dal, it’s not that you’re gonna find something terrible. This looks like wheat, actually, so you do find bits and pieces. I’ve just found another something. So they’re not dangerous, they’re not harmful, they’re not pink, but they’re not dal. Okay. So now that all the other kind of impurities, bits have been taken out, I’m just gonna put some water in there, you know, so that I can wash it. It should be cold water because you don’t wanna use hot water. It’s also quite hard to wash if the water’s hot. And, of course, the moment you put water, it clumps up. So the main thing is to try and release it. You’re washing it this way. This is the best way to wash it. Do not be rough, but you’ve gotta keep this process. So already the water has become this horrible murky color. So I’m just gonna throw this and I’m going to try not to lose all the dal while you throw it, it’s very gentle. Get some more fresh water in, and now you’ll immediately see it’s getting cleaner. Slight amount of patience is required. You don’t wanna eat this. So just imagine that if you don’t clean it all the way till the water runs clean, you’re eating this stuff. It should take around four rinses. And eventually you’ve got to get to the point where it’s clear. Because see, now, the dal is ready, the water is clear. And then what I’m gonna do is I’m going to leave it to soak for half an hour. And this is really just to make it faster, the whole process. So I’m gonna set it aside and I’m gonna leave it to soak. While this is soaking I’m going to prepare the base for how to make the dal. There are very few things that go into the base of the dal. Essentially it’s onion and garlic and some dried red chilies. These are onions you get in India, which are always red. So when I went to London I was so surprised to see that they were white. I was thinking, what happened to the onions? Then I discovered that, English, Spanish onions are white. So it’s basically roughly chopped. I’ve seen people doing that in chunks, but, I mean, really it’s nicer to cut it into smaller pieces. But it’s just uneven, doesn’t matter, it’s just chopped up because it’s gonna break down. For four cloves of garlic. Okay, so I’ve prepared the garlic and the onion, I now need to prepare the tamarind. So for those who don’t know what tamarind is, it’s a sticky pod. And the name tamarind comes from the name that the Arab traders gave to tamarind when they saw it for the first time they called it tamar hind, which is the date of India, hind. So it’s not a date, it’s this kind of sticky pod. A lot of people do use it, you know, from a concentrate. I think there’s a big difference in the taste. If you can, just buy it, and I’m gonna show you how to actually create the pulp. So the thing is that, you know, the water is not hot, it’s just a little bit warm, it kind of helps to break down the tamarind faster. And I’m using a spoon just to kind of separate it out a bit. Now I’m gonna show you how to actually make the pulp. So go in with your hands and you start squeezing. So all the tamarind paste is coming out. So you can already see the color changing. And you don’t want these bits but you can’t actually throw them as yet because you’ve got to make sure you get everything out. I see a lot of people describing it, like, pour hot water and leave it to soak. No, you pour hot water and you squeeze it. There’s something quite therapeutic about pulping the tamarind, it feels good. Feels good. And here, there’s a very, very strong smell of tamarind which is very hard to describe: it’s sweet, but you know it’s sour too ’cause it hits you somewhere there. When you smell it there’s a sourness in it. And you know, this whole idea of sustainability and using the entire produce, what people do is after they actually get all the tamarind pulp out, the remaining stuff which is the seeds and the rough bit, we wash our pots and pans with this, and we wash silver with it. So now everything is ready to start the dal. I just need to throw away the water because I don’t want this water in the dal. So the dal can just sit here and wait till I get the oil ready. So I’m using a karai. One of the things about dal is that you can make it with any kind of pot. You just have to have a lid. You just have to have a lid. So I’m putting in some oil. And then because it’s gonna take a bit of time for it to heat up, I’m just gonna break up the chilies. I want to release the aromas, and I want those seeds to be released. I want all of the flavors come through. Some gonna take all of this now, and the dal to get it ready. The oil looks like it’s ready. But just to be on the safe side, not your finger just the tip of the onion. You wanna hear that noise? You know, the oil is ready. First goes in the chilies, then the onions. The reason why you’re doing this step, is you want to infuse the oil with all the flavors, and for that you need heat. Otherwise what’s gonna happen is all of this is just gonna get soggy. And this is very unique to Indian food. We flavor, we flavor and flavor at different levels. So this is the first flavoring of the dal. Dal on its own has no flavor, it needs to absorb all of this. And now you don’t want it to burn, so you just got to keep stirring it till it starts darkening. This is not the time to check your Instagram or to make a phone call. You don’t leave this place because this can become very black very quickly. For those who are around, you can smell it. It’s that very roasted smell, in this case slightly caramelized. So the oil is darkened as well. It’s ready. I’m going to start putting in the dal. Now put the dal in from as low as possible. If you throw it from up, too high up, all this oil will splash back on you. And now I’m essentially coating that oil on the lentils. You don’t want the lentils to start sticking, and now it is. This is a time when you want to add the water. Make sure you don’t leave any of the lentils stuck on the pan because then it’ll burn. So I’m just gonna add some salt. So I’m gonna add the turmeric, I mean, you’re not cooking the turmeric because the turmeric is going to be boiled now with the water. It’s giving color to the dal, flavor as well. But the other interesting thing about turmeric is that it’s a purifier. So even how much ever we wash the dal, we put turmeric in a lot of our foods because it’s antibacterial. Cover the dal with the water. If you find that, you know, the dal is coming out, top it up with warm water. You don’t want it to be full of liquid nor do you want to be super thick. I’ve got to add one more ingredient, and that’s some tomato puree. So it’s just a little bit, you know, maybe two, two tablespoons because this is not tomato dal, this is tamarind dal. So you don’t want to tomato to be the kind of prominent flavor. This also now brings a nice kind of, you know, slightly pinker color into the dal, which is very pretty. There’s no point actually tasting for salt now. I know I’ve put less, but if I’ve put too much I can tell you what we do, put in a raw potato and cook the raw potato with that. Potato sucks up all the salt and then take out those potato and throw it. This dal is very close to being ready. I could actually probably put this off, and I’m going to put the lid on, and in the residue heat, it’s gonna cook the rest of it, because I’m gonna now prepare the rice. If you’re gonna put anything into rice, never use glass because you know, if a chip or something falls in you may not see it. So it’s quite important that you use ceramic or you use a bowl, wooden bowl. So here I’m using basmati. We are very superstitious about dropping grains of rice. My mother would say that, you know every grain of rice has your name written on it that it is in your kismet whether you eat it or not. So, you know, these things kind of leave a deep impression in you that, you know, we don’t throw rice. So this is one cup of rice. If you are trying to figure out why the rice looks a bit like this, that it looks a bit brown. This is basmati, but this is the way it’s polished in India. In the West they polish it because they think white looks better. That’s not true. They polish the life out of it. But anyway, this is the one cup of rice, which I’m putting in there. So in this rice, you’ve just got to check on it, make sure there are no impurities. I think I just saw something that is not a rice. How interesting. Yeah. I found a piece of lentil or something else. Yeah, lentil. It kind of goes through the same stage as what I’ve done with the dal. And then once it’s clean, you’re gonna soak it. So I’m gonna leave the rise to soak for 30 minutes, to up to two hours. So now I’m just going to sieve the tamarind. So I’m just gonna pour this through. So again, I’m squeezing it, and I’ve got a lot of it out. Now, I’m gonna complete the dal, tamarind dal. So let me just open the dal. Okay, great. Very happy with the texture and the color. This is that Goldilocks, not too thick, not too thin, not too hot, not too cold. That kind of, this is that kind of idea. So I’m gonna bring the tamarind, and I’m gonna add the tamarind. And I need to taste it because, you know, with tamarind it’s very hard to know how sour it is. So I’m gonna just put half, then I’m going to slowly mix it in. Now I can actually taste for seasoning to see whether I need more salt. For me, seasoning is critical, you know. Nothing can be worse than having something saying, “Ooh, touch of salt is missing.” I mean, that’s really… Okay, it’s fine. Now I’m gonna show you a toy. Ta-da! Okay, so this is what we use to blend our dal. If you want you can use a whisk or you can use the back of your spoon like this. The dal is not meant to be smooth, it’s not soup. So this is a kind of ideal texture that you want the dal to be. But anything remotely close to this is fine. Okay, so now I’m leaving the dal there because I need it to be warm, not boiling, when I put the temper in, because that’s when it really meets. I need the do to be hot, never, ever temper dal that’s cold because it will not grab all the flavors. And here is my rice that has been soaking. Looks good. So it’s basically, it’s one cup of rice to two cups of water. So now that my water is boiling, I’m just gonna drain this. I’m gonna use a colander, so I’m just going to, just gonna make sure that I get the rest of the rice out. And this rice is very fragile, it’s been soaking. Do not fiddle around with it, just leave it as it is. Now I can hear the water boiling. Now I’m gonna very gently put the rice in. So just a bit of salt. So now in the absorption method I want to see the grains dancing. You, you know, just remember that, till the rice grain is dancing, it’s not ready. So once they start dancing and you see them going up and down. Stir it stir only in one direction. You can see now the grains are all dancing and the rice is now changing color, it’s becoming flatter. But you have to wait till almost all of the water has been absorbed or evaporated. You’ve got to be patient but you’ve gotta watch it because if you walk off exactly at the moment you walk off is all gonna get stuck, that always happens. So just now look at it, you can see what’s happening. Now, if I’m pulling back the rice there’s very little water coming through. Just to be on the safe side, take out a rice, press. It should still have a bit of hardness inside. Now I put it off, spread it out and I cover it, and I leave it for 10 minutes. Tempering is the second stage of adding flavor to the dal. It’s called different things in India. It’s called chaunk. It’s called baghar. It’s all the same idea of just the final tempering. It’s always added at the very end, even better if it’s added once it’s put in a bowl just before you serve it. I need garlic, cut in slivers, so I’m gonna cut this into slivers. The other things that go in the tempering, is cumin, cumin seeds, curry leaves, fresh curry leaves and chilies. As far as the dried chilies is concerned you can use any kind of dried chilies. These are very mild because I don’t want to overwhelm the tamarind, I want to taste the tamarind. So it’s really up to you. And also you learn the hard way, you put too much chilies, your mouth’s burning next time you won’t do it. So just figure it out, figure it out, which chilies is hot, which is not, you know. Cooking is the experience that you get from actually doing it. So I’m just gonna heat up the dal. I am actually gonna add a little bit of water because it has actually become quite thick and there’s a risk of it getting stuck. So if that does happen, it’s not a problem just add a bit of water to the dal, just to loosen it up a bit. I just add a bit of water. it’s just literally to just to loosen it. I take my dal very seriously because I’m making this to comfort myself and my family. So now that the dal has been heated up through I’m gonna transfer it here. Put the dal in there. So this is, you know, dal for two meals. You know, don’t temper all the dal because, you know, this is what you’re gonna eat. Take out what you’re going to eat the rest you can leave for now. So then I’m going to go and get the tempering ready for this amount of dal, okay. Oil goes in. You can also use ghee if you want. I’m gonna get the cumin. The cumin is a good one to test. See, now you can see the cumin dancing. It’s coming to the top. The moment that happens start putting in everything else. Put in the chilies, garlic increase the heat a bit. Now you’ve got to wait because what you’re waiting for is for the garlic to start coloring. And now I’m getting my curry leaves together. If you don’t have fresh curry leaves don’t use it. Dried curry leaves are dead, they have no flavor. You don’t have to use curry leaves. Now I’m ready to pour the baghar on the dal. This is my favorite part. And I can’t even begin to describe to you what that aroma is. It’s smokey. It’s garlic. It’s this amazing aroma of curry leaves. The burnt chilies. My rice is ready, I’m gonna bring my rice out. This is an entire meal on its own. It’s nutritious. It’s aromatic. It’s healing. So here it is, rice and dal.

About the Instructor

Asma Khan, owner of famed London eatery Darjeeling Express and bestselling cookbook author of “Asma’s Indian Kitchen” teaches her favorite family recipes, inspired by her childhood in Kolkata, India. The chef, restaurateur, and activist is the first UK-based chef to be featured on Netflix’s Emmy-nominated Chef’s Table and, in 2019, was listed number 1 on Business Insider’s ranking of “100 Coolest People in Food and Drink”. Join Asma on a nostalgic culinary journey to explore the smells, flavors, and ingredients of her ancestral Bengali roots.

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