I’ve made several lentil soups whose results I’ve documented (also here and here) on this blog. I hadn’t much success with urad dals (Buford Highway Farmer’s Market sells them as urid dals), a kind of black lentil, because they needed a substantially longer cooking time. Most recipes that use urad dals speak of soaking overnight and then cooking for 3 hours.  So, I decided to try again, and the results are worth reporting. As I’m inclined to improvise, we’ll talk about ingredients as we use them.

We started with a cup of urid dals purchased from Buford Highway Farmer’s Market. Those were soaked overnight and set to simmer in the morning with 6 cups of water. I usually start another pot simmering with nothing but water, so that I can add hot water if the dish requires it.

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After 2 hours I tasted the dals, which seemed soft and probably edible at that point. I added 1/2 cup of bulgur (I would have preferred pearled barley but couldn’t find any) and 2 bay leaves, some hot water and started prepping vegetables. I cut up a yellow bell pepper, 3 stalks of celery, some carrot, equivalent to 1-2 full sized carrots, 3/4 of a large yellow onion, and 1 jalapeno pepper, with seeds. These we sauteed in olive oil for 7 minutes (until the onions begin to turn transparent) and added to the pot (after 2 hours, 15 minutes). We let it simmer for 40 more minutes.

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One characteristic of the Indian recipes is that they wait until the very end and then sautee aromatic spices, garlic, etc in ghee (clarified butter) and add that to the soup. In the same spirit we prepped 2 jalapeno peppers, seeded and deveined, 2 large cloves of garlic, thin sliced, 3 decent sized shallots, and a handful of destalked fresh spinach. These we sauteed in olive oil until the spinach was limp and dark green and the shallots were turning transparent (ca 3 minutes), and we added that to the soup, and let it cook 5 more minutes.

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The soup that resulted is vegan, creamy, rich, and full of flavor. All I added was some salt substitute before I served it. Others may choose to add spices of their choice.

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I’m not 100% sure whether the soup grew so rich because of the dals themselves, or because the bulgur acted as a thickening agent. In many of these soups, (great examples are here, here, and here) potatoes can be added to give it a vegetable component, and that will thicken the stock over time.

In the Indian section of the Buford Highway Farmer’s Market, they’re called urid dals, though online most sources call them urad dals. I have been fascinated by them since sources say they have an earthy flavor, and one thing I’m trying to do with my various incarnations of lentil soup is have a tasty product that isn’t mush. But the one thing I didn’t get before cooking this batch was a good cooking time, and I cooked them about 30-45 minutes. The product is a little chewy this time, as opposed to mushy. The soup is still not perfect.

There are some good looking recipes for urad dals out there, such as this really tasty looking dal mahkani. There are interesting lentil recipes as well, such as this one from the blogger Food and Spice for a spicy green lentil and split pea dish. But I wasn’t really finding recipes that told me how long to cook urad dals. Then I switched search tactics and found this Carnegie Mellon site pretty quickly. Sanjiv Singh’s recipe for curried black lentil soup has the dals cooking for two hours. Whoooops.

Other good looking recipes include this one, from 101 Cookbooks.  The site beanslentils.com has a nice spicy urad dal dish. And off-topic but way cool:  Aarkfood’s ten essentials for the Indian kitchen.