Black Lentil Dal in the Slow Cooker

I got a slow cooker for Christmas. All the cool moms-of-preschoolers have one these days. But I hadn’t used it much until now. Thanks to this “soft foods” diet that I’ve been on recently however (no, this is not the newest weight-loss fad, it’s a dental issue), I’ve finally set down to figure things out.

Black Lentil Dal (4 of 6)

I started browsing slow cooker books on amazon, and  Anupy Singla‘s  The Indian Slow Cooker jumped out at me.  Maybe most people think of chili as the slow cooker meal par excellence, but to me Indian food seemed the obvious choice.  (Though perhaps not just to me).  I’m no expert on Indian food, but the little I do know is that curries and dals benefit from a relaxed, gentle simmer that gives the flavors and spices plenty of time to comfortably meld and mix. Or at least this is what I was told at the Indian restaurant around the corner from our old apartment in London. (We went there, well, a lot).

This book is a slender volume, but with an entire chapter devoted just to lentils and a second for chickpeas and legumes, I am finding plenty for my slow-cooking roster.

Black Lentil Dal (5 of 6)

I admit I used this recipe to inaugurate my slow cooker out of the sheer novelty of using black lentils–dark like obsidian and shiny as liquid ink, diminutive like French Puy lentils.  But even with the minimal effort required, it was all the other ingredients that I got to use that made this dish so fun to make–the long neglected jars of turmeric, ground coriander, whole cardamom and fennel seed in my pantry.  It’s not that I don’t love all these flavors, but I don’t have the ease and facility with them that lends itself to experimentation while cooking.

Fortunately the author had figured it out for me.  And I loved coming home from work to a kitchen perfumed with sweet cardamom, spicy cloves, earthy cumin and warm ginger.

Black Lentil Dal (3 of 6)

As a dal, the lentils would have ideally melted and broken down into a thick sauce–much like what happens with red lentils.  However, since I could only find whole, rather than split, black lentils, mine clung fast to their shape as I ladled them out over rice.  I’m sure the gentle heat of the slow cooker allowed them to retain their disc form as well.  Not that I minded this slight deviation from authenticity.

Black Lentil Dal (6 of 6)

Black Lentil Dal adapted from The Indian Slow Cooker by Anupy Singla; Update 4/30 see her original post on this recipe here!

(Recipe for a 3 quart slow cooker, double for a 5 quart cooker; makes 7 cups)

  • 1 1/2 c (300g) whole dried black lentils
  • 3 shallots
  • 1 teaspoon grated fresh ginger
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 2 dried or fresh chiles (I used chile de arbol)
  • 1 bunch (about 1 cup chopped) fresh cilantro (I used 2 heaping teaspoons dried)
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons cumin seed
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons ground coriander
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons garam masala or 3 cardamom pods, 2 cloves, and 1/4 teaspoon fennel seed
  • 2 heaping teaspoons salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon turmeric powder
  • 1/2 to 1 1/2 teaspoons red chile powder
  • 6 c water
  • plain yogurt, cilantro, and rice for garnish

Chop the shallots, hot peppers, garlic, and cilantro together in a food processor.  Add this, and all ingredients but the garnishes to the crock pot.  Cook on low for 8 hours.  Season and serve over rice, with a dollop of yogurt or sour cream on top and fresh cilantro leaves.

Black Lentil Dal (1 of 6)Black Lentil Dal (2 of 6)