Transatlantic Daal: Indian Daal Tadka

Music Pairing: Copland, Fanfare for the Common Man


Among our top most thrilling things to do in life is travel.  As it happens, many years ago, we found ourselves crossing the Atlantic on Queen Mary 2, which in itself, was an amazing, one-of-a-kind experience.  A week on a ship feels like a lifetime.  Time moves to its own tune, at its own pace, through a dimension that feels quite different from the way it does on land.  From the enthralling, majestic expanse of the ocean as far as the eye can see, to the marvels of technology that allow one to feel as if in a full city or a magical compound of culture, entertainment and human connection, we were in for a true adventure. One of the greatest joys was spending time with one another, while also meeting new friends.  One evening, while enjoying an upgrade to the elegant Queen’s dining room, we met a couple who seemed to be engaged in a more intimate/lively conversation (contrasted by the generally formal, if a bit reserved flavor to the rest of the energy in the room).  Meanwhile, on our table were a few of our favorite dishes: a curry, a biryani and a daal, courtesy of Aaron and Afa’s enterprising approach to dining (we discovered that with this lucky upgrade came the opportunity to alter the “traditional” menu and make a special request of the chef…needless to say, we took advantage of that in no time).  After exchanging a few smiles and nods, the couple moved closer to our table and started what was to become one of the more memorable conversations of our journey.  To preserve their privacy, we will refer to them as John and Padma.  They were curious as to how we managed to enjoy an Indian meal on a steak night and after a while, we shared our meal and our “secret”.  Our conversation, which went for some hours, revealed their beautiful love story.  After having met in their youth, they were separated by barriers of time, geography, culture and fate, only to rediscover one another many decades later.  To test the power of their love, they ventured on a trip across the world: if the love endured, they were to reunite and rebuild a new life together. We learned years after that they are enjoying a beautiful partnership today, across the world and continue to travel and discover the world together.  But our conversations led to the most important things in life: food.  On day 2 of our friendship, Padma shared her own recipe for daal tadka, which we enjoy and share with friends from around the world to this day…


  • ½ cup yellow or red lentils
  • ½ cup of chopped yellow onion
  • 1 medium tomato
  • ½ teaspoon of turmeric
  • 6 cloves of garlic
  • 1 inch piece of ginger
  • 1/2 teaspoon of salt
  • ½ teaspoon of coriander powder
  • ½ teaspoon of chili powder
  • ½ teaspoon of cumin
  • 1 1/2 teaspoon of olive oil
  • ½ teaspoon of mustard seeds
  • 3 curry leaves
  • 2 whole dry red chilis
  • Optional garnish: chopped fresh cilantro


  1. Rinse your lentils in cold water
  2. Boil the lentils with the onion, turmeric, chopped tomato, ½ of the allotted garlic, ginger, salt, coriander, chili and cumin.  Once tender (about 30-40 mins), set aside (you may choose to grind it, if smoother texture is preferred.
  3. In a frying pan, heat the oil gently, adding the mustard seeds, curry leaves, whole chilis, the rest of the garlic and ½ teaspoon of whole cumin seeds.  Only gently brown the spices, do not let the mixture burn.
  4. Once golden brown, add the mixture to the daal and cover with the lid immediately.  Allow all the flavors to mingle before serving (another 10 minutes)
  5. We enjoy it by itself, sometimes with papadum, or more seldom, with basmati rice.

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