We got this recipe from film producer Ismail Merchant for a cover story on dal. "I can't live without dal," Merchant wrote in his cookbook "Passionate Meals" (Harry N. Abrams: $39.95) of India's great genre of legume cooking, "I am a dal junkie." As the producer explained to Hansen, "Every household in India has its own version. It is a rich man's food, a middle-class man's food and a poor man's food." This recipe is one delicious way Merchant feeds his obsession.
1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons oil
1 medium onion, halved and thinly sliced
2 (2-inch) cinnamon sticks
1 pound masoor dal (orange lentils), picked over and rinsed
1 1/2 teaspoons chopped ginger root
2 1/2 cups chicken stock
1/2 teaspoon ground red pepper
1/2 small onion, chopped
1 small clove garlic, chopped
1/2 serrano or jalapeno chile, chopped, with seeds
2 bay leaves
1 tablespoon chopped cilantro
Heat 6 tablespoons oil in large, deep saucepan over medium-low heat. Add sliced onion and cook, stirring, until tender. Add cinnamon sticks, dal and ginger. Cook, stirring often, 10 minutes. Add stock, 2 cups water, red pepper and salt to taste. Bring to boil, reduce heat and simmer 10 minutes. Squeeze juice from lemon, straining seeds, and add lemon juice and lemon to lentils. Cook 50 minutes, stirring often. Add up to 1 cup more water, if dal dries out too much.
Heat remaining 1/4 cup oil in small pan. Add chopped onion, garlic, chile and bay leaves. Cook, stirring, until onion is browned. Add mixture to lentils and stir. Remove bay leaves. Turn into serving bowl and sprinkle with cilantro. Serve hot. Makes 5 to 6 servings.