RECIPE – Never a dhal moment

A photographer I once worked with asked “Is it boring?” when we kept referring to a dish as a dhal (dull) curry. On the contrary, dhal or lentils make such yummy dishes that even my carnivore husband takes second helpings when dhal is served.

Cynthia Wee-Hoefer, one-time colleague and now organic farmer (the Hoefers grow vegetables in Nepal) wrote in her Organic Himalaya November email Update: “Today’s lunch was reheated Nepali lentil soup that we had frozen from the last batch made for Farmers’ Market. We embellished it with chopped mushrooms, diced carrot and diced turnip and filled bowls of hearty goodness and sublime flavours with a hint of fennel seeds, coriander, turmeric and onions.” For more info, visit

Doesn’t that sound deliciously warm and comforting?

Lentils are cheap, nutritious and versatile. There’s such a variety and they can be served in stews, soups, with salads or as spreads. The high fibre helps stabilise blood sugar and with 26% of the calories attributed to protein, and the high iron content, it can help us live healthily without hurting animals. 

I like my dhal with a generous dollop of yoghurt – looks messy but tastes heavenly. With the increasing number of diabetics in Singapore (and elsewhere), we would do well to switch to complex carbs and low-fat but satisfying ingredients that don’t leave us famished after a while and craving cookies and crisps. As someone who is mesmerized by chocolate, cake and salty snacks, I know how important it is to feel full enough to resist the tasty offerings passed around the office, or calling my name in food malls.


Here’s a dhal dish from the Indian Vegetarian Cookbook by Prava Majumder and Sumita Sen-Gupta published in 1989 by Times Books International (now Marshall Cavendish). I have fond memories of working with Mrs Majumder whose recipes were featured in the magazine I then worked at. Make a big pot of this sambar and freeze in batches to savour whenever you want something simply good.


Dhall Sambar

Serves 6

Prep: ½ hour, Cook: 1 hour

Kcal per serving: 347


2 teacups arahar dhall (use any small lentils)

2 teaspoons salt

2 teaspoons turmeric powder

½ cup sliced white radish

½ cup sliced eggplant

½ cup sliced okra

½ cup sliced drumstick (optional)

½ cup sliced carrot

½ cup sliced cauliflower

4 Fresh green chillies

2 teaspoons chilli powder

2 teaspoons sugar

2 tomatoes, halved

2 tablespoons oil

4 dried red chillies

A few curry leaves

1 teaspoon mustard seeds

2 teaspoons chopped ginger

2 onions, chopped

1 tablespoon tamarind juice


Wash dhall and then boil with salt and turmeric powder. Cook with saucepan covered.

When dhall is half-cooked, put in all the fresh vegetables except cauliflower, green chillies and tomatoes.

When vegetables are three-quarters cooked, add cauliflower, green chillies, chilli powder, sugar and tomatoes. Remove boiled mixture from fire when cauliflower is half-cooked.

Heat oil in a pan and fry dried red chillies, curry leaves and mustard seeds till they pop.

Add ginger and onions; fry till light brown. Add the cooked dhall and tamarind juice; leave to simmer for a few minutes before removing from fire.

Serve Dhall Sambar with plain rice.


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