Gujarati Thali with Lentil & Basmati by Chef Michael Smith

Prep Time: 10 Minutes

Total time: 40 Minutes

Servings: 6

Indians eat a lot of lentils. More than anyone else. Since they're the biggest consumer on the planet, they grow a lot of lentils and are one of the worlds largest producers. However, they eat even more than they grow, so India is also the world's largest importer of lentils from Canada, who is the world's largest exporter. Whew. That's a lot of lentils! Especially in the historically vegetarian state of Gujarat, where they're part of every meal, usually in Thali. This classic vegetarian meal always includes basmati rice, whole grain bread, curried vegetables and sweet, tangy, spicy curried lentil dal. This staple is part of every home's traditional food, so naturally every cook creates their own signature version! This recipe is from the India webisode of Lentil Hunter with Chef Michael Smith.

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Chef Michael Smith

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    2 cups (500 mL) split red lentils

    6 cups (1.5 L) water

    1 Tbsp (15 mL) jaggery cane sugar, other raw cane sugar or brown sugar

    1 tsp (5 mL) turmeric

    1 tsp (5 mL) ginger powder

    1/4 tsp (1 mL) cayenne pepper

    2 small fresh green chilies, chopped

    1 tsp (5 mL) salt

    2 ripe tomatoes

    1 Tbsp (15 mL) vegetable oil

    1 tsp (5 mL) cumin seeds

    1 tsp (5 mL) mustard seeds

    1 tsp (5 mL) fennel seeds

    1/2 tsp (2 mL) asafoetida powder (optional, see note)

    1/2 cup (125 mL) tender cilantro leaves and stems, lightly chopped for garnish

    2 limes cut into wedges for garnish


  1. Begin by tossing the lentils, water, sugar, turmeric, ginger, cayenne pepper and fresh chilies into a soup pot. Over medium-high heat, while stirring gently, bring the works to a full, furious boil. Adjust heat, lowering pace to a slow, steady simmer. Cover and continue cooking until lentils soften and dissolve, another 10 minutes or so. Stir occasionally. Switch to a vigorous whisk which will break lentils down even further into a smooth puree.
  2. After lentils have softened, stir in salt and tomato. Both ingredients slow down tenderizing. Use coarse holes of a standard box grater to grate in tomato; you’ll end up with its skin in your hand, which you can discard.
  3. Finish with tadka. In a sauté pan over medium-high heat, add vegetable oil. Just as it begins to smoke, take the pan off the heat and add the cumin, mustard and fennel seeds. Shake gently as they snap and crackle a bit. If they don’t, return pan to heat until they do. The intense heat will fully release their aromatic oils and flavours. Add the asafoetida powder stirring briefly. Pour and stir the hot oil directly into the lentil dal.
  4. Ladle the lentil dal into festive bowls. Sprinkle with cilantro and freshly squeezed lime juice. Serve and share with your choice of thali accompaniments!

Note: Asafoetida Powder is a common Indian spice ade by drying the gum that oozes from the tap root of the Ferula herb. It’s a digestive aid and anti-flatulent. It’s also a flavour enhancer so it adds a savoury Umamilike dimension to the dish. It’s widely available from main-stream grocery stores or Indian specialty grocers and is usually sold mixed with wheat powder. If you can’t find any, don’t despair, just leave it out. Your dal will still be delicious!