This is a simple dal dish, lifted by adding a sliced omelette. Called omeletter dal, it makes a great week-night meal, best accompanied by plain white rice.
This version comes from the Assam region and features one of their local ingredients, pickled chillies. You will notice few ingredients in the recipe below, other than turmeric, which is mainly there to help digestion of the lentils. The flavour hit comes from the pickled chillies, and frankly, there is no substitute for them.
We have a recipe in this book for these pickled chillies, or chilli achaar, or you could buy some from a good Indian grocer. Buy as small a jar as you can, because you don’t use too much at a time. Mind you, you might become addicted to this dish and end up using it very often, as we do. And no, other pickles, such as mango or lime are definitely not suitable.
Like so many of these family dishes there are endless variations. Instead of adding a sliced omelette to the recipe, you might consider leaving that out and topping each serving with a fried or poached egg. You may also consider poaching the eggs in the dal. To do so, you would make the dal a little thinner than specified, then turn the heat down. You then make depressions in the dal and crack whole eggs into these depressions. Spoon some of the dal mixture over the top of the egg as it poaches to get consistent cooking. This would take just a few minutes extra to cook if done this way.
This dish is very common across the north-eastern parts of India. To make the Bengali version, use a finely sliced fresh red chilli, a teaspoon of jaggery powder and a teaspoon of panch phoran to replace the pickled chilli.
Personally, I advocate making it as described below. The pickled chilli is a very distinctive and special taste.
for the omelette
- 3 eggs
- ¼ tsp turmeric powder
- 3 tbsp water
- 1 tbsp mustard oil
- 1 tbsp coriander leaves coarsely chopped
Thoroughly wash the red lentils, drain, then place into a pot with three cups of water, the turmeric and salt.
Bring the lentils gently to the boil, then reduce heat to a low simmer and cook for 20 minutes, stirring occasionally. Remove any foam that appears. If the lentils start to dry out, add a little more water as required. Do not add too much as you do not want a watery dal.
Add the eggs to a small bowl with turmeric and water. Whisk until well blended.
Heat the oil in a pan over a medium heat, then add the egg mixture. Cook for two or three minutes until they start to set, gently swirling the pan to keep egg mixture distributed. Once eggs have started to set, gently fold omelette in half and cook for another minute. Remove from pan and set aside to finish cooking in its residual heat.
Heat the additional mustard oil in the pan over medium heat. When hot, add the onions. Fry the onions for about ten minutes, or until they have softened and taken on a golden colour.
When the onions have coloured, add the ginger and pickled chillies. Fry for two minutes. Remove from heat and allow to cool for a few minutes, so that the dal will not spatter when added in the next step.
Carefully add the dal to the pan and mix gently. If you prefer a smooth dal, whisk it and add a little water. Be cautious adding water as you can easily go too far and have a dal that is more like a soup.
Slice omelette into 1cm strips and add to the dal. Check the consistency of the dal and add a little boiling water, if required. The omelette will absorb some of the moisture in the dal.
Check seasoning and cautiously add salt if required.
To serve, spoon the dal and egg over plain rice in individual bowls. Garnish with the coriander.
- The more you stir the lentils, the more they will break down. We like our lentils with some texture, but if you prefer a smoother dal, use a whisk to break down the grains before adding the omelette.
- Pickled chillies are available from Indian grocers. They are called chilli achaar.