Tamarind dal

An astonishingly good dal, despite the recipe coming not from India but from Veganomicon, my favourite cookbook. I’ve tweaked it a bit.

Garam masala from western spice-makers is rarely much good. If you can, get something more authentic from an Indian grocer, or online. It makes a difference. Tamarind concentrate can be hard to find: you want the black, syrupy stuff, not the dark brown, textured kind. It tends to come in opaque plastic jars so you don’t know what you’ve bought until you can open the jar. Asian grocer or online.

This dish improves if left overnight: consider making it the day before.


  • Cumin seeds, 2 tsp
  • Coconut oil, 6 tbsp
  • Garlic, eight cloves
  • Ginger, large thumb-sized piece
  • Green birds-eye chilli
  • Large onion, two
  • Garam masala , 4 tsp
  • Puy lentils, 400 g
  • Vegetable stock, 1 litre
  • Tamarind concentrate, 4 tsp
  • Agave nectar or maple syrup, 2 tbsp
  • Tomato paste, 4 tbsp
  • Salt
  • Fresh coriander (cilantro)


Dry-roast the cumin seeds for a few minutes, being careful not to let them burn. Set them aside.

Peel the garlic and grate it and the ginger. Chop the chilli. Dice the onions.

Heat a large, flat-bottomed saucepan over a medium heat. Add the coconut oil, garlic, ginger, and chilli, and fry for a couple of minutes. Don’t let the garlic brown.

Add the onion, garam masala, and roasted cumin seeds, and cook for a few minutes, until the onion has softened. Enjoy the smell.

Add the lentils and stock. Give it a good stir, let it come just to the boil, and then reduce the heat and simmer for about half an hour, until the lentils are properly soft and all the water has been absorbed. If the lentils aren’t soft, keep cooking.

Meanwhile, in a small bowl, mix the tamarind concentrate, agave nectar or maple syrup, tomato paste, and a teaspoon of salt.

When the lentils are soft, add the tamarind mixture (a rubber spatula helps), give it a good mix, and simmer for another five minutes.

You’ll add water to loosen, and salt to taste: salt makes a difference here.

When you’re ready to serve it, mix in two or three handfuls of chopped coriander leaves, and sprinkle some on top, too.