Ode to Dal

Ode to Dal

Kalpna Woolf, Founder of 91 Ways to Build a Global City shares with us her story of her Mum’s Curcumin Loaded Chana Dal.

“We know that dal is a staple for millions of people across the world, giving daily and often much needed all-round nourishment, but dal is also a fundamental symbol of the culture of a community (it is a cultural touchstone) and as such it is with pride and affection that dal dishes are placed at the centre of a table of food (not as a side-dish) and recipes lovingly handed down to generations. Dal is a feature at feasts, holy days, happy and sad occasions. It is my go-to ingredient when I want, taste, comfort and good, healthy food and a connection back to my heritage and it’s what I love to spend time cooking for my son and family.

This is my mum’s recipe – Chana daal is a ‘meaty’ daal with a wonderful texture which we would look forward to eating as a family. It is a traditional North Indian dish and provides vitamins, protein and iron. Importantly, this dish provides a double hit of turmeric as it is added to the daal when boiling and to the a sauce. Turmeric is a true power spice packed with antioxidants and helping to ease inflammation. Every day new research findings are showing the positive health effects of turmeric. This recipe also includes chili, ground coriander and cumin – all wonderful health-giving spices, so each mouthful will not only taste delightful but also fuel you with goodness.

This dal can be either eaten as a one-bowl dinner or as a soup. It tastes even better the next days so make double the quantity.”


Rinse the daal so the water runs clear, then soak in a bowl of cold water for at least 2 hours, or overnight.

Bring the water to the boil in a large saucepan. When the water starts to boil, add the daal and 1 teaspoon ground turmeric. Partially cover the pan and cook over a medium- high heat for 30 minutes. The water may need skimming. After 30 minutes, turn up the heat to high and cook for a further 1—15 minutes until the daal is soft and the water is absorbed in the daal.  The daal should retain its shape but still be soft.

Heat the oil in a deep frying pan over a medium heat. Add the cumin seeds and, as soon as they start to they sizzle, add the garlic and ginger. Mix for 1 minute then add the chopped onion, coriander stems and green chili and cook for 4-5 minutes until the onion is soft and almost brown. Add the spices – the remaining turmeric, the ground coriander, chili powder and the salt – and stir through for 1-2 minutes. Add the canned tomatoes and juice and the tomato puree, then add the warm water and leave to meld together for about 10 minutes over a low-medium heat until the tomatoes are mashed down and the sauce is thick.  At this stage, add the spinach leaves and cook for 1-2 minutes until wilted.

When the daal is soft, spoon the sauce into the daal and simmer for 5-10 minutes. The daal will thicken. Mix in the coriander leaves and serve.


200g/7oz Chana daal

2 litres/3 ½ pints cold water

2 tsp ground turmeric

For the sauce

2tbsp olive oil

1tsp cumin seeds

2 garlic cloves, finely chopped

5cm/2in piece fresh ginger, peeled and grated

1 medium onion, finely chopped

28g/1oz. fresh coriander (cilantro), stems and leaves chopped separately

1 green chili, finely chopped

1 tsp. ground coriander

½ tsp. chili power

¾ tsp. salt

200g/7oz. canned chopped tomatoes

1tbs. tomato puree (paste)

4-5 tbsp. warm water

160g/5 ½ oz. young spinach leaves, roughly chopped