This traditional butternut squash dahl has all the elements you need to make an autumn or wintertime romantic dinner. Overflowing with nourishing ingredients, it contains several aphrodisiac spices that will warm your body from head to toe. It is also the kind of vegan dish hearty enough to please meat eaters without the feeling of heaviness that comes with many comfort foods.
The recipe comes from my friend Nandita Godbole’s cookbook, A Dozen Ways To Celebrate: Twelve Decadent Indian Feasts For The Culinary Indulgent. A delicious, one-pot meal you can whip up on a weeknight or a special night, this vegetarian comfort food offers an incredibly complex flavor with surprisingly little effort.
What is dahl, (or dal or daal)?
You might have heard of daal, also sometimes spelled dal or dahl. You might have even ordered one or two at your favorite Indian restaurant. But you may still be wondering what defines a dahl.
Dahl, dal and daal all refer to both an ingredient and a dish. The dish called daal is made from the ingredient dahl, dried split peas, lentils or other legumes at the base of the dish. Different varieties of legumes tend to be featured in different parts of India. But the method is still the same.
For any dahl, the dried legumes are soaked and simmered to tenderness. This is the heart of dahl. What happens from here is up to the creativity and flavor preferences of the chef.
For this dahl recipe, Nandita uses split yellow pigeon peas. This version is also called toor dahl.
Ingredients in this toor daal recipe
If you don’t make a lot of Indian dishes, many of the ingredients in this toor dahl may be foreign to you. But don’t worry, they’re all easy to find and, with Nandita’s instructions, very easy to use.
Yellow pigeon peas
You can buy these split peas at many grocery stores. They are often sold either in an ethnic foods section or wherever your store stocks beans. But they are sold under a variety of names. They may be called split yellow pigeon peas, or yellow split peas or toor daal, toor dahl or toor dal. Confused? You can click this link to buy split yellow pigeon peas online.
The most important thing you have to remember about pigeon peas is that they have to be precooked. But once your split peas are precooked for 20 minutes, you can begin to make your daal. For this, you’re going to have to use a few other ingredients that may not be familiar.
Ghee, (pronounced like gee only with a hard g), is almost the same as the clarified butter used in French cooking. However, ghee is cooked longer than clarified butter and develops a more rich, slightly nutty flavor.
You can buy ghee on Amazon.com. Or you can try making your own. Here’s an easy recipe for ghee from The Spruce Eats. But Nandita notes that for this particular dahl recipe, you can use regular butter if you don’t have ghee or the time to make it. And if you want to make a vegan toor dal, use your favorite vegan butter substitute instead.
You’ve probably cooked before with cumin and clove in powdered form, if not as an individual spice, then in a spice blend. Both of these spices are commonly used in powdered spice mixes. But you may be unfamiliar with using whole cloves and cumin seeds.
However, for this traditional Indian recipe, you’re going to want both spices in whole form. You may not have realized it if you never looked for them before but both cumin seeds and whole cloves are commonly sold in the spice section of most grocery stores. But here are links to order whole cloves and cumin seeds from Amazon in case you can’t find them at your neighborhood supermarket.
Fresh lemon juice
My favorite part of this authentic dahl recipe is the finishing touch. Just before serving, you whisk in a touch of fresh lemon juice to brighten the flavor and give the dish a lively, freshness. Be sure to use freshly squeezed lemon juice for this step and don’t forget to season the dal with salt to taste.
Why this butternut squash dal recipe is a great choice for date night
I like this warming recipe as a choice for an autumn or winter day. The heat from the chiles will warm the body from the inside out. That’s one of the reasons the spice is among my favorite aphrodisiacs. Clove, one of the other spices Nandita incorporates into this recipe, is also known for its power to warm the body. And the turmeric, also an aphrodisiac, will help naturally boost your immune system during the cold and flu months. Together, they add up to make this one surprisingly sexy dish!
Nandita recommends serving this traditional Indian recipe as a modest but complexly flavored romantic dinner. But it also works well as the main course of a vegetarian dinner party. The leftovers make a sensational and nutritious lunch the next day.
Vegan Cashew and Butternut Squash Dahl
- 2 tbsp ghee or butter*
- 2 tsp cumin seeds
- 2-4 tbsp cashew halves
- 1 large onion slivered
- 3 large garlic cloves
- 3 cloves
- 2 dried red chilies broken into bits
- 1/4 tsp turmeric powder
- 1/2 cup butternut squash cut into small cubes, OR 2 yellow crookneck squashes, thinly sliced
- 4-5 cups water or as needed for precooking and cooking
- 2 cups raw toor daal split yellow pigeon peas
- 1 tsp lemon juice
- salt to taste
- 5-10 stems of cilantro trimmed for garnish
- Precook the toor dahl in a pressure cooker with 4 cups of water for 20 minutes or boil on the stovetop in a heavy-bottom pan until soft.
- Whisk the dahl until smooth and thin it out with ½ cup or more of water until its consistency is similar to heavy cream. Set aside.
- In a heavy-bottom saucepan, warm the ghee (or butter) until it is melted and add cumin seeds.
- As the seeds begin to sizzle, add the cashew halves and lightly sauté them until they are golden.
- Remove the cashews from the ghee and save them for topping the daal.
- Add the slivered onions to the remaining ghee and sauté them until they are lightly golden brown.
- Add the garlic cloves, cloves and broken pieces of red chilies, and sauté for ½ minute. Take care at this point, as the cloves are likely to pop and sputter out of the pan.
- Add the turmeric powder and squash of your choice and stir until the squash is coated with the spices.
- Cook the squash on medium-low for 2-4 minutes until the edges are browned.
- Slowly pour the cooked and whisked dahl into this compote and stir in to ensure that the dahl does not stick to the bottom of the saucepan.
- Add water as needed to make a smooth consistency and to allow the dahl to boil, the squash to cook and the flavors to combine. Since all the ingredients are mostly precooked at this point, the boil is only intended to help the squash cook through.
- Stir every 1-2 minutes to prevent the daal from sticking to the bottom of the saucepan.
- Finish the dahl with lemon juice and salt, and sprinkle with cilantro leaves and reserved cashew for a final garnish. Enjoy hot.
A note on the provided nutrition informationThe nutrition information provided has been estimated by an online nutrition calculator and is not a substitute for a professional nutritionist’s advice.
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