Dal, an iconic Indian lentil dish, gets an elegant boost from Chef Saran with a tempering oil that's made with heat-bloomed spices. A bowlful of dal and rice can be the most satisfying comfort food ever.
Sort through the lentils and remove any debris. Rinse in a fine-mesh strainer under cool, running water. Place lentils and water in a bowl and soak 10 minutes. Soak the lentils in the water. Meanwhile, in a saucepan over medium heat, add oil and the panch phoran; cook until the spices are “jumping and dancing.” Add the ginger, garlic, and turmeric, then turn off the heat and add the chili. Carefully add the lentils and their liquid, along with 1 teaspoon salt. Over medium heat, bring to a simmer and cook until creamy, 45-60 minutes. While lentils are cooking, chop cilantro for the garnish and set aside.
When lentils are simmering, cover and continue to cook at a very low heat, stirring regularly so lentils don’t stick and burn at the bottom of the pan.
Meanwhile, make the tempering oil: In a small saucepan over low heat, add the ghee, then the panch phoran and the asafoetida. Cook until spices are “jumping,” two minutes. Remove from heat so the spices stop “blooming,” then add the garlic, paprika, and cayenne. Place back on the heat for a flash, then off again. Add water and set aside.
As the lentils cook, depending on how old they are, they may need more water. The lentils should be swimming in the water, not constrained or choked by it. The water has to give a lightness to the lentils while they cook.
When the lentils are finished cooking, they should be buttery soft. Raise the heat so the liquid comes back to a boil. Taste to adjust the seasonings, and add salt, ¾ of the chopped cilantro, and all the lemon juice, then stir. Reheat the tempering oil. Place the lentils in a serving dish and spoon the hot tempering oil on top of the lentils.