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Wash the lentils in cold running water a few times until the water runs clear, then put in a bowl and soak for 30 mins in fresh cold water. Soaking the dhal quickens the cooking process. While the lentils are soaking, prepare the vegetables and cook by either steaming or briefly boiling. Once the vegetables are ready – do not let them overcook, they should still have bite – spread them out on a plate to cool and stop from becoming mushy.
Next, drain the lentils and put in a bowl. In a heavy-based, lidded pan, heat 2 tbsp of oil over a medium-high heat. Add the cumin seeds and dried chillies, followed by the lentils, turmeric and 1½ tsp of salt. Add 1.2 litres of warm water and bring to a boil. When the surface of the water is bubbling, cover the pan, lower the heat and simmer gently for 30 mins. Stir occasionally to ensure the dhal is not sticking to the base of the pan.
Once the dhal is cooked, leave it covered in the pan while preparing the vegetables. Put the remaining 2 tbsp of oil in a shallow frying pan over a medium-high heat. Once hot, add the onions and cook for a few minutes until softened, then add the ginger and garlic pastes, and cook for a minute until the raw smell disappears. Add the tomatoes and continue to cook until they have broken down to a pulp. Add ½ tsp of salt and the cooked vegetables, stirring to mix the contents of the pan.
Gently pour the mixed vegetables into the dhal. Taste for seasoning and adjust. The dhal can be left to cool and then chilled at this point if you plan to eat this later – this is a great dish to serve when inviting people to your house as you can prepare it the day before or earlier in the day, and reheat and temper just before serving.
Just before tempering the oil, make sure you reheat the dhal until steaming hot. Warm the oil in a small frying pan over a medium-high heat. Add the mustard seeds first and wait until you hear them pop before adding all the remaining tempering ingredients. Keep stirring until the garlic is just turning brown. Carefully pour everything plus the oil in the pan on top of the dhal. Garnish with coriander before serving.
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