Dal Shorva (Indian Lentil Soup)

Dal Shorva in bone china.

This is a much simpler, down to earth variation of dal (Indian lentil) soup, than featured here. My version of the recipe from Mumtaz Khan, of "Mumtaz Paan House" restaurant, in Bradford, UK. Though simpler, I consider this a more authentic example of dal, taste-wise. I do not include pressure cooker instructions here. I feel that because of the minimal ingredients, for this to be worthwhile, it really requires slow cooking. There's no substitute for developing flavours than time. Apart from not needing to own a pressure cooker, the upside is that you won't have to deal with messy splatters of lentil all over the place, because of the slow pace it cooks at. The downside is that you take all afternoon to cook the soup. So, done properly, this isn't the best choice for a quick meal from scratch, after returning from work. (Though it does freeze wonderfully, and you can heat it up in minutes).

The lentils soften very slowly over a period of hours. Because of that and the absence of vegetables, there is also no need to own a hand blender, as there's no need to liquify the soup at the end of cooking. Most of the lentils will have melted into the liquid, and the few remaining will add body and character. There is also no need to add salt if you use powdered stock, and no need to add fat by way of oil or butter, if you opt out of the "tarka". So it becomes a pretty healthy choice of soup. I've also not included any hot stuff, to keep it down-to-earth. Of course, if you like your dal piquante, there's no shortage of options. Add fresh chopped chilis, chili powder, curry powder, or even a few teaspoons of Moroccan harissa paste. This is pretty much a "recipeless" recipe, as you can play with the spices and the types of lentils or stock, or if you prefer, add additional chopped vegetables or not.


2 cups mixed lentils, split or whole (Substitute: yellow or red split lentils. Green is not ideal)
8 c water (or chicken or vegetable stock)
2 1/2 T (8t) chicken or vegetable bouillon powder (if using plain water)
1 to 2 cloves garlic (or to taste)
1 tsp turmeric
1 tsp cumin powder
1/4 tsp ground cardamom
1 t garam masala
1 t black pepper, ground
1 t salt (unless using prepared powdered stock, which already has salt in it)
a few bay leaves
1 lemon

Tarka Dal (Optional):

1 lg onion, sliced
3 T oil, butter or ghee
1 T mustard or cumin seed


Rinse the lentils in cold water, a few washes until the water is clear. Mince the garlic (shown here). In a large stock or soup pot, add the 8c cold water, the lentils, the garlic and all the spices and herbs to be added (**Do not add the masala right away, if opting to add the tarka at the end). Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to low, and keep the pot covered, while you let the soup simmer. During cooking, the soup should be just barely moving. Very occasionally, you will need to adjust the heat to maintain this very slow simmer, and to stir the pot to keep the lentils from sticking too much to the bottom. Let the soup cook all afternoon, or at least a few hours (about 6 hours should be good). (Tip: You can probably make it in the morning before going to work, leaving it on this very low heat, and it will be ready 8 hours later).

The longer it cooks, the more the flavours develop. Do not allow it to become too thick (e.g. not thick like porridge). Once done, remove the bay leaves before serving. Slice the lemon, and with a knife, cut away the peel and pith from the slices, leaving only the flesh. Place the lemon slices in the soup bowls, before pouring the soup. Serve the dal with bread and fresh vegetables.

Tarka Dal: Optionally, you can add a "tarka" to the dal at the end of cooking, to enhance flavours. This is done by frying about a tablespoon of mustard or cumin seed in a pan in about three tablespoons of olive oil, butter or ghee on medium heat, until they start to pop and/or become fragrant. Then add sliced onion and fry until softened and translucent (but not browned). Then add the garam masala, fry for one minute, and transfer the mix to the dal soup pot. (Add some dal to the frying pan to ensure all the oil has been transferred). Simmer for a few minutes longer.


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