What red sauce is to an Italian, dhal is to a Guyanese. It is truly a staple in our cuisine. Dhal is a type of "gravy" made essentially from split peas and is commonly eaten with rice or roti. It is topped with almost any type of Guyanese dish from chicken curry to fried fish, to various vegetables such as ochroes or spinach. The simplest and most delicious way to eat dhal for me is with hot paratha roti. Once the dhal has had a chance to soak into the roti, it ends up being a very filling and hearty meal for me.
Dhal is made by boiling water with yellow split peas, onions, garlic, pepper and various spices. Then using a swizzle stick, also known as a dhal ghutney, or some other appliance to make the dhal smooth. In a metal ladle or a very small pot, oil is heated and whole cumin seeds (geera) and sliced garlic are fried until they are almost burnt. This is then added to the already cooked dhal. The burnt garlic and geera give the dhal a hint of smokiness that is truly delectable and unique. This method is known to much Guyanese as "chunkaying". There are many people who do not like the taste of the burnt geera. But I love it and I feel it really makes dhal tastes like dhal.
My mom cooks her dhal in a pressure cooker and it is usually done cooking within 10-12 minutes. What results is a smooth, slightly thick texture that can stand up to any rice or roti that it is poured on. Because I do not own a pressure cooker (I know, the shame), I use a different method, an immersion blender! Let's face it. Not many of us have the time to stand over a pot with a dhal "gutney" or swizzle stick trying to make the dhal as smooth as possible. So I take this shortcut and it saves me a lot of time.
Growing up in a Guyanese community, you can imagine that I have eaten dhal from many different homes and restaurants, but nothing beats my mom's recipe. She adds just enough spices to develop a flavor that is really like no other. I've made this a few times just to get the measurements correct for you. This will serve approximately 4-6 people with some leftovers. Well maybe, just depends on how many times you go back for seconds.
A Note on Adding Tomato
An East Indian family friend of ours suggested adding a small tomato to our dhal. If you know anything about where our food came from, you'll know that East Indians add tomatoes to their dhal. My mom tried it and liked it. It doesn't change the taste of the dhal much, but adds a nice background flavor. This is completely optional as the traditional Guyanese way of making dhal does not include tomato. I'm so glad my mom was open-minded to trying this tip and other new ways of cooking, it's helped her become versatile in the kitchen.
- 8 cups water
- ½ tsp garam masala
- ½ tsp curry powder
- ¼ tsp turmeric
- ¼ tsp ground geera
- 1 ¼ tsp salt
- 1 cup split peas
- 5 garlic cloves
- 1 whole onion
- 3 wiri wiri pepper
- 1 small tomato, optional
- 1 tsp whole cumin (geera) seeds
- 1 garlic thinly sliced
- Bring 8 cups of water to a rapid boil. Rinse split peas and add to the water.
- Chop onion, garlic, tomato, and wiri wiri peppers (or scotch bonnet) and add to boiling water.
- Add spices and salt (I usually like a bit more salt in my food so start with 1 tsp and add more if needed).
- Boil peas for 45 minutes until peas are soft to the touch. Blend with immersion blender or use (dhal ghutney) swizzle stick to achieve a smooth texture. Return to a slow boil for another 15-20 minutes until dhal gets slightly thick. Turn heat off when you have reached your desired texture.
- In a metal ladle or very small pot, heat oil and fry sliced garlic and geera until they become slightly burnt. Immediately add to dhal, being careful to cover the pot as you add the garlic/geera mixture as the hot oil will pitch since it is being combined with a water based liquid.
An East Indian family friend suggested adding a small tomato to her dhal. If you know anything about where our food came from, you'll know that East Indians add tomatoes to their dhal. My mom tried it and liked it. It doesn't change the taste of the dhal much, but adds a nice background flavor. This is completely optional as the traditional Guyanese way of making dhal does not include tomato.