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I know I’ve told you how my Grandma is the best cook I know. Which is why when I’m home, I have to follow her around the kitchen with a weighing scale, a notepad and a camera. When I fly in (and for every day that I’m here) she always asks me what I want her to cook. And my answer is always the same.

Dahl. I could eat Grandma’s dahl every day. If you’re picturing the stodgy dahl that you get with roti canai, you’re probably wondering why I’d ask to eat that week in, week out. But shop dahl is just not the same as Grandma’s. It starts with buying the dahl, or lentils. Despite not having lived in the area for years, we go all the way to the Modern Store in Brickfields  – a small shoplot that, surprise surprise, looks nothing like it’s name. Its aisles are cluttered with all things Indian, and it’s always really crowded in here. Grandma chatters away to the staff in fluent Tamil while explaining to me in English how to choose murungaka (moringa or drumsticks). “You must twist them, if cannot twist then you know this is old one.” The Indian man asks Grandma why her granddaughter doesn’t speak Tamil and gives me a look that suggests I’d make a very poor choice of wife.

Grandma says that you need two types of dahl to get the right taste. Not Australian dahl though, that’s the cheap stuff that they use to make dahl for selling because it’s starchy. She uses a half-half mix of yellow Toor dahl and smaller orange Masoor dahl.

toor and masoor dahl

When we lived in the old house, technically squatter housing I believe, Grandma had a big murungaka tree out the back. Despite us kids offering to go and pluck them for her, she’d say no, hike up her sarung and proceed to climb the tree. She did this until they day we moved, she must have been almost sixty then.

I’m not sure you can get all the stuff for dahl where you might be, but if you can it’s a great staple recipe. It’s a simple weeknight dinner with white rice, or an elaborate one if combined with other Indian curries.

dahl cooking

Grandma’s Dahl
serves 5

90g yellow Toor dahl
90g orange Masoor dahl
5 cloves garlic, peeled and halved
3 slices ginger, 0.5cm each
2 carrots, peeled and cut into 2cm rounds
1 potato, cut into roughly the same size as the carrots
1 drumstick (murunga), cut int 5cm sticks – if you can get it
1 tsp rasam podi (from an Indian grocer)
½ tsp chili powder
¼ tsp tumeric powder
½ tsp stock powder
4cm square of tamarind pulp
2 dried red chilis, cut in half
½ tsp black mustard seeds
1 small onion, quartered and thinly sliced
15 curry leaves

  1. Place dahl in a bowl, and pour over cold water until it is 3cm above dahl. Leave to soak for 1-2 hours, but not more – it will make the dahl hard (I have no idea why this is, but it’s true – I’ve tried it). 
  2. Strain the dahl. Place dahl in a pot with the garlic and ginger and add cold water to come up to about 3cm above dahl. Boil on medium heat for 10-15 minutes. If the mixture gets too dry, add more hot water – cold water will slow the cooking process.
  3. Add carrots and drumstick and boil until carrots are tender.
  4. Soak tamarind in hot water for ten minutes, then strain and reserve the juice. Discard seeds and pulp.
  5. Add rasam podi, chili powder, tumeric powder and stock powder and stir. Add half the tamarind juice and taste for balance – it should be ever so slightly sour. Add more to taste.
  6. In a separate frypan, heat 2 tbsp oil. Add mustard seeds and dried chili – cook for 15 seconds, then add sliced onion. Fry until onion is lightly browned on the edges, then add curry leaves and turn off the heat.
  7. Add this mixture to the dahl pot and stir through. Cook for a further 2-5 minutes and serve.