“Some foods are so comforting, so nourishing of body and
soul, that to eat them is to be home again after a long
journey. To eat such a meal is to remember that, though
the world is full of knives and storms, the body is built for
kindness. The angels, who know no hunger, have never
been as satisfied.”

Eli Brown

I’ve always admired the dhabha style food of Punjabi roadside eateries. One of my most favourite dishes on the menu is channa daal – the gram lentils curry.

This creamy and spicy dish is served over steamed rice or with a piping hot roti straight from the clay oven.

Cooking lentils slowly is the key to making them naturally creamy, as it gives them enough time to release the starch that thickens the curry. If you are in a hurry, you can use pressure cooker to get the same result.

Traditionally, this recipe is cooked in two steps. First, the lentils are boiled separately and only then added to the curry masala to fry. As I’m not very fond of washing too many pans for one dish, I have altered the recipe to a one pot, more convenient version.

First, I cook the masala gravy and then let the lentils cook in it till done. Not only it saves time and energy, but actually helps the lentils absorb more flavour from being cooked slowly in the curry.

For an added oomph, drop in a dollop of butter on top to melt its way into the lentils. Enjoy!


1+1/2 cup channa daal/gram lentils/Bengal gram
1 medium onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, crushed
2 black cardamoms (bari alaychi)
1 stick cinnamon (darchinni)
6-7 whole black peppercorns
4-5 red dry chillies, roughly chopped
1 teaspoon cumin seeds (zeera)
1 teaspoon salt or to taste
1 teaspoon red chilli powder
1/2 teaspoon turmeric powder (haldi)
1/4 cup vegetable oil
2 heaped tablespoons butter (optional)
julienned ginger, chopped coriander for garnishing.

This Is What You Do:

Wash and soak the lentils for at least 30 minutes (soaking not required if using a pressure cooker).

Heat oil in a deep pan, fry onions on medium heat till golden.

Add crushed garlic and all the dry and whole spices. Sauté for a few seconds, add 1/4 cup water and cover the pan. Allow the spices to simmer for 2-3 minutes.

Add Channa daal and 4 cups of water. Reduce heat to medium low, cover the pan and cook till the lentils are really tender. If the curry gets too thick or the lentils are not done completely add a little more water.

Mash with the ladle slightly, pour in the serving dish. Add a dollop of butter if desired, add the garnishing and serve hot with steamed rice and fresh salad.

Serves 4.

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