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The U.S. and Canada are big producers of pulses — I’ve even picked my own dried garbanzo bean pods from fields in southern Alberta — but India is king, especially when it comes to lentils.
“Dal is from all over India — every region has dal,” says the expert I turned to, Naresh Madaan, manager of Whistler’s Tandoori Grill. “There are many types — like split yellow or black or green — so it depends on which one you use and how you season it.”
Tandoori Grill’s chefs use whole black and split yellow lentils or dal, in a 60/40 mix — a ratio he recommends for both flavour and texture. They add turmeric and salt while it cooks and later combine it with a sautéed mixture of tomatoes, onions and garlic. And Naresh adds one secret that most people don’t know about: once you start cooking the lentils in a pot, only stir them once or twice.
“It’s a very good mixture,” he says. “Once you try it in our restaurant you will eat it every day, like I do. I think it has a more distinguished taste. The black dal is everywhere, it’s common in every restaurant. But people are very impressed by the taste of ours — they say wow, that’s a really good one.”
Like many people from India and South Asia, Naresh is a vegetarian and enjoys dal for lunch and dinner every day, scooping it up with roti or naan bread and having it with a bit of fresh relish made from fresh sliced onion with a little salt and pepper and lemon squeezed on it, along with some hot chilies. And like anything you eat a lot of, you get to distinguish good from bad.
“It’s very complex, but a good dal should taste a little garlicky or oniony,” says Naresh. “But you know what? A good chef can make a good dal without garlic and onions as well.”
Dal is an ancient dish, part of Vedic cooking, an ancient Indian vegetarian cuisine aimed at achieving the ultimate in bliss and consciousness which has evolved over thousands of years. Another ancient religious sect in India, the non-violent, vegetarian Jains, will not eat root vegetables like garlic or onions, so a good chef who can whip up a tasty dal without same is much appreciated.