Diwali is soon coming up and this week we’re celebrating Indian food and all things spiced and spicy. Dal is a real Indian comfort food and is present at every meal. It is made... from protein packed lentils or other small legumes. Dal can either be thick like stew or thin like soup, and sometimes vegetables are added to it. This dal is creamy and thick, and made with quick cooking red split lentils. It is also deliciously autumnal thanks to the tender cubed butternut squash that is cooked in it. To up the health ante, there’s also cancer fighting turmeric and chilies, plus star anise and ginger to aid digestion. And the Indian method of adding hot, spiced oil at the end of cooking, adds a brightness and depth to the flavor that turns this dal into a meal in itself.
Put the lentils, squash, water, star anise, turmeric and ginger into a heavy pot with a lid. Bring to a boil, skimming off any scum that forms on top.
Add salt, turn the heat down to low and cover. Simmer until the lentils are soft and breaking up, and the squash is just cooked, about 25 to 30 minutes. Keep an eye on the lentils as they thicken and soften. They will need stirring to stop them sticking to the bottom of the pan. When the lentils are thick and creamy looking, and the squash is cooked, remove from the heat, and discard the ginger and star anise. Cover and set aside. Add a little hot water if the mixture looks dry. Start the spiced oil.
Heat the ghee or oil in a small skillet over a medium-high heat. When it has completely melted, and starts to ripple with heat, add the cumin seeds. As soon as they start to darken, about 30 seconds, add the garlic and chili pods, cook constantly stirring. As soon as the garlic colors and the chili pods have darkened to a deep red, add the basil and cilantro. They will spit and sizzle. Cook for a minute then pour the entire contents of the skillet over the lentil-squash mixture and stir in. Serve immediately with brown basmati rice.
Ghee is clarified butter. You can usually find it in the dairy section of the health food store. It also exists in a vegan version, but I prefer cooking with coconut oil when I’m not using dairy.
Dried chilies are not as hot used whole as when they are broken up. It’s the pith and seeds inside that add the extra heat.