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Spiced Indian Dal

I was standing in the ashram kitchen next to Mahatma Guru Charanand, watching as he masterfully mixed the spices. Mahatma means, “Master of Wisdom,” and Charanand loved to sing and he loved to cook. It was in the mid 1970's when I learned to cook from the “master,” and thus began a life-long love of Indian cookery. Once exposed to the taste of authentic Indian cuisine and a vegetarian lifestyle, food and spirituality became intimately entwined.

There are as many versions of dal as there are Indian cooks and this version was influenced by Mulligatawny, South Indian soup originally known as “pepper water” or Rasam, and used as a cure for indigestion. The warming and carminative spices contained in the garam masala are what lend a healing quality to this soup.

OM, to the Mother of all cooks…

“May the Ocean of Salt, the Ocean of Honey, the Ocean of Wine, the Ocean of Ghee, the Ocean of Curd, the Ocean of Milk, the Ocean of Sweet Water sprinkle thee with their consecrated water.” – from a consecration manta


2 cups red or brown lentils

2 large onions, thinly sliced

bay leaf

4 tablespoons coconut oil (or ghee)

2 cloves garlic, minced

2 tablespoons ginger, minced

2 tablespoons garam masala

1 quart vegetable stock and additional water as needed

1 teaspoon salt

½ cup coconut milk

(optional garnish: lemon, rice, cilantro leaves and sour cream)

Wash the lentils and soak for a few hours or over-night. Drain, rinse, cover with water and simmer with bay leaf and one thinly sliced onion until soft. In the meantime, heat coconut oil and sauté the onions, garlic, and ginger until golden. Add garam masala and sauté a few minutes longer. Add some of the stock to sauté pan to loosen spices and add to the dal with remaining stock and salt. Simmer until lentils start to fall apart 1- 3 hours. Add coconut milk at the end, warm through and serve over rice with lemon. You can also garnish with cilantro leaves and sour cream or yogurt.

A little music from Guru Charanand to accompany your meal: Always Remembering You


Indian Vegetarian Cookery by Jack Santa Maria, published by Samuel Weiser, Inc. New York. Printed in Great Britian 1977.

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