1 cup brown lentils (see note)
1 T. canola oil
1/2 tsp brown mustard seeds
1/2 tsp. ajwain (very optional)
1 onion, chopped
1 carrot, diced
1 stalk celery, diced
1 potato, diced
1 small green chile, seeds removed if you prefer
1/4 tsp ground tumeric
a handful (about 2 tbsp.) flaked coconut
Put lentils in small saucepan; cover with water by about 1 inch. Bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer and cook about 30 min, until really tender. Don't bother to drain.
Heat oil in large skillet; add mustard seeds and ajwain, stir a couple of times, then add your onion, carrot, potato and celery. Cook until they start to brown. Add the lentils, tumeric and the chile to the skillet; stir and cook until the dal it the consistency you want, adding water if necessary. Salt at this point, then add the coconut, stir and serve.
I had intended to make a cabbage dal from a book, but my cabbage had disappeared! I guess it must have been tossed out by accident. Having to improvise, this is what I invented, and it was a hit. You could also probably do this with any other variety of lentil; just adjust the cooking time as needed. We like the dal pretty mushy but not quite pureed, but it's your dinner so make it how you want.
Goes really well with naan or any flatbread. Any good Indian cookbook has recipes to make whole-wheat versions at home. I serve this with an Indian vegetable dish too.
Ajwain is a Pakastani seed which, as Penzey's Spices puts it, helps "temper the effects of a legume-based diet." It's tasty, too. I doubt most folks have it hangin' around the spice cabinet though, and you won't miss it if it's not there. It adds an anise-like flavor and while I've no proof that it aids in, um, the digestion of beans- it doesn't hurt.
I've found plain frozen grated coconut in the Latin section of my grocery store. If you don't have it, the sweetened kind will do; since there's not very much, it adds a negligible amount of sweetness to the dish.