Food in Focus: Dhal

Welcome to Food in Focus. Each week we will post about different food from around the world, explaining what it is, where it comes from, where you can eat it and how to make it yourselves! Today we are exploring an Indian favourite – dhal!

What is dhal?

Dhal, daal, dahl or dal, it doesn’t matter how you spell it, it still tastes delicious! Dhals come in many different forms but the classic dhal is a vegetable dish comprising lentils and some form of fried vegetable (such as onion in a tarka dhal), plus a blend of spices. Once made, a dhal will have the consistency of a thick creamy puree with plenty of bite to it. Most commonly used as an accompaniment to a curry, it is also common as a quick dish or snack in it’s own right, served simply with flatbread such as naan or roti. Dhal means ‘split pulse’ and they can also comprise of peas or dried beans.

This is an affordable dish and is considered classic comfort food to those who have grown up with it. It is warming and extremely nutritious, a great alternative to making a winter soup.

Check out our beautiful and simple Tarka Dhal recipe here!

Where does it come from?

Lentils have historically come from the Mediterranean, however there is evidence of them being used in dhal recipes on the Indian subcontinent as far back as 300 BCE and beyond. During an excavation of the Harapan site of Farmana (in the Ghaggar Valley of Haryana) evidence of starchy granules such as lentils were found in storage jars suggesting their use in the Indus Valley Civilisation which dates back to between 2600 – 1900 BCE!

It was still very common on Indian tables in the middle ages, where it was consumed both by the people and the Emperor. In later times however, due to the low cost of the pulses it became less popular with the upper echelons of society as it was seen to be a peasants dish, whilst it gave poorer parts of society a staple and nutritious meal that was easily affordable. Those times have gone now and once again you will see dhals across all Indian household tables. There is no right or wrong to making a dhal, they are straightforward dishes, so experiment with different types of pulses and vegetables!

Where can you try it?

On the UK highstreet, tarka dhal will by far be the most common dish and can be found in most if not all Indian restaurants, but for the real deal you cannot beat heading out to one of the most incredible countries in the world and one which will offer you an food experience that is guaranteed to memorable for all the right reasons – India!

In fact, across the Indian subcontinent you can find more variations on the dish than any restaurant in the UK. These countries include Pakistan, Sri Lanka, India, Nepal, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Maldives and Afganistan. Not to mention many other countries in the region. Each offer their own take on this classic, and you will find dhals as street food as well as on every menu. Within these countries, each area will have its own favourite styles of dhal, but across the region you will always find the classics such as masoor, tur, urad, moong and chana dhal.

How do you make it?

Visit my Tarka Dhal recipe here for a simple introduction to one of the worlds most popular dishes!

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