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Indian Comfort Food: Dal & Rice

Indian Comfort Food: Dal & Rice

Every evening, countless homemakers in India pour out a spoonful of ghee (clarified butter) into their pans. The ghee melts into a clear, fragrant  pool. Cumin seeds crackle. Slowly, the air fills up with the irresistible aroma of asafoetida powder. A few quick manipulations later, there is dal: a beautiful shade of yellow, piping hot, and ready to pleasure the palate.

Today, I invite you to share with me the delights of dal-chawal, the dinner millions in India love! It is amazingly simple to make, rich with health benefits, and absolutely delicious.

First things first, the recipe:

Split yellow lentils/pigeon peas/arhar dal, washed: 1 cup
Ghee (clarified butter): 1 teaspoon
Asafoetida powder/hing: a pinch
Cumin seeds/zeera: ˝ tsp
Turmeric powder/haldi: ˝ tsp
Salt to taste
Freshly washed and chopped cilantro leaves to garnish the dal
Lemon juice ( optional)

Boil the dal with salt and turmeric powder in enough water to get a nice, soupy consistency—as thick or thin as you like, as long as the dal is cooked through.

In a small pan, heat the ghee. Add asafoetida powder and cumin seeds. As soon as the cumin seeds begin to sizzle, pour the ghee into the dal.

Garnish with cilantro leaves and if you like, some lemon juice.

This is the simplest, and my most favorite way to make dal. I also like to add paprika flakes to the dal, letting them sizzle just for a few seconds along with the cumin seeds. Some enjoy their dal with ginger and garlic, others lavish it with a sprinkling of curry leaves.

Arhar dal and freshly steamed rice are a match made in culinary heaven.

Now let me tell you about the healing benefits of the ingredients in this recipe:

Split yellow lentils/pigeon peas (called arhar dal in Hindi): a good source of protein, essential fat, fiber and minerals. Balancing to all three humors (doshas), namely vata, pitta and kapha.

Ghee: lubricates connective tissue, promotes flexibility, calms inflammation, stimulates digestion, has been traditionally used as an aid to sharpening brain and memory…the benefits of ghee can actually fill a big book! But best of all, ghee tastes delicious, smells divine, and a little goes a long way.

Asafoetida (Hindi: Hing) this resinous gum has been reputed for centuries as a superb anti-inflammatory,  anti-flatulence, carminative, digestive agent. Has a strong smell, which gives Indian food its typical aroma, but may not be attractive to some. The only way to know is to try it!

Cumin seeds (Hindi: Zeera):  Recent studies are lending power to the ancient ayurvedic belief—cumin seeds are excellent digestion boosters, and can even play a role in fighting cancer.

Turmeric powder (Hindi: Haldi): one of nature’s most powerful healers, turmeric is the bright yellow star of Indian cooking. In numerous studies, curcumin’s anti-inflammatory effects have been shown to be comparable to the potent drugs hydrocortisone and phenylbutazone as well as over-the-counter anti-inflammatory agents such as Motrin.

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Read more: Health, All recipes, Alternative Therapies, Ayurveda, Diet & Nutrition, Eating for Health, Entrees, Fitness, General Health, Natural Remedies, Vegetarian, , , , , , , , , ,

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Shubhra Krishan

Writer, editor and journalist Shubhra Krishan is the author of Essential Ayurveda: What it is and what it can do for you (New World Library, 2003), Radiant Body, Restful Mind: A Woman's book of comfort (New World Library, 2004), and The 9 to 5 Yogi: How to feel like a sage while working like a dog (Hay House India, 2011).


+ add your own
4:39PM PDT on Apr 2, 2015

Well, Shubhra, I really loved your Dal soup that you recently wrote about so I will try this as well. Great healthy ingredients and I'm hoping that the local Indian market will have the asafoetida powder. Thank you!

7:50AM PDT on Mar 30, 2015

I've never seen (nor looked for) Asofoetida powder. Curious what it tastes like. Guess it must be found at an Indian market.

5:16PM PST on Nov 18, 2014

Sounds delicious, will try it this week. Thank you.

12:41PM PDT on Aug 8, 2012

Garlic is a superb substitute for Asafoetida.
Actually, garlic is used in dhal the world over.

10:35AM PDT on Aug 7, 2012

thanks for sharing!

4:28PM PDT on Jul 23, 2012

Will have to try the recipe. Thanks

12:33PM PDT on Mar 28, 2012

I make an American kitchen version of this quite often. Especially before donating blood (tons of iron!). Thanks for this recipe.

6:15AM PDT on Mar 27, 2012


6:12AM PDT on Mar 27, 2012

There's no need to use ghee, a little oil will do fine. One of my favorite comfort foods is oatmeal, organic, cooked with whatever I have, raisens, apple sliced, walnuts, sometimes even a few bits of chocolate if I want that. Cook. Add something to the top like a sprinkle of cinnamon, or rice syrup, honey maybe. It seems nourishing and soothing also.

9:06AM PST on Jan 10, 2012

This is really healthy and balancing to all three humors (doshas), namely vata, pitta and kapha.I think this is the real key to this delicious meal.

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