My road to making good dal

Anthony Bourdain once famously said that India is likely the only country he’s ever visited where he could imagine happily enjoying life as a vegetarian. And I completely understand what he means: so many Indian dishes across its many regions treat beans so well with endless spices and seasonings that oftentimes when you are enjoying them, you forget there isn’t any meat on the table. It doesn’t matter if it’s strong spices like cumin and hing or fresh curry leaves or cardamom — the cuisine is so rich that if you want to make something seemingly bland like the humble lentil delicious, it’s really easy to do so.

Living in a rich western country, I have always had easy and affordable access to animal protein. My mom, on the other hand, living in rural, poor, Central Vietnam as a growing child, did not, and so when she came to the U.S and had easy, cheap access to meat, she obviously wanted to take advantage of it. So growing up, when I would occasionally threaten to be vegetarian after learning of animal cruelty or factory farms, she would scoff at me and say that “being vegetarian is not allowed.” She just saw it as my being spoiled: only someone extremely privileged would give up meat.

She’s kind of right. But as the world moves forward, and climate change, global warming, and the environment are becoming far more of a concern, meat consumption really does need to decrease. And so in my mind, the only way to really get tasty protein into one’s diet is to eat more beans – the South Asian way. So I started experimenting a lot more with different Indian pulses and legumes. I’ve tried endless dal recipes and spice combinations for tadka. And I’ve realized that the most flavorful dal is definitely one with a dal tadka, or a spiced oil that is added towards the end that really gives dal quite the “pizzazz.” I made this today after a while of not doing it (doing full Instant Pot dal is honestly so much easier than dealing with tadka, as there’s no splatter on the stove to clean up!), and after having a spoonful, I’ve reminded myself why I need to do this more often to eat more dal.

Dal is the future. Dal is tasty. Dal is good for the environment (I just learned on the beans episode of Gastropod that growing beans and having that be a part of crop rotation enriches the soil and land! Another win!). So we should all eat more dal.

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