Meera Sodha’s vegan recipe for fennel and dill dal


There’s a presumption that when the weather gets warmer, all a person wants is salad. Well, not this person. While I love salads, for dinner I need to feel the warmth of a meal in my belly. There is a wealth of dals out there, as many as there are Indian cooks, but the sort I want in summer is a light, fresh one such as today’s recipe, which I first ate from the London-based tiffin delivery service Dabba Drop. It is sweet with fennel, fresh from the dill and wonderfully zingy with lime.

Fennel and dill dal
Anshu from Dabba Drop was kind enough to send me her recipe, which I have adapted here. You’ll need split mung beans, which can be found in Asian supermarkets and online.

Prep 10 min
Cook 35 min
Serves 4

300g yellow split mung lentils
1 tsp ground turmeric
1 ¼ tsp fine sea salt
4 tbsp rapeseed oil – I like Mr Organic
1 tsp cumin seeds
1 ½ tsp black mustard seeds
1 large onion, peeled and finely chopped
1 large fennel bulb (about 500g), trimmed and finely chopped
1 handful fresh dill (about 10g), chopped, plus extra to finish
2 green finger chillies, chopped
4 garlic cloves, peeled and crushed
200ml coconut milk
1½ tbsp lime juice (ie, from 1 lime)
Steamed basmati or jasmine rice, to serve

Wash the mung lentils until the water runs clear, put in a large pan with the turmeric and cover with 1.2 litres of water. Bring to a boil, turn down the heat and simmer for 20-25 minutes, until cooked – that is, when the lentils start to break down and merge together when stirred. Stir in the salt and set aside.

While the lentils are cooking, heat the oil in a large frying pan over a medium heat and, once it’s properly hot (test by holding a hand 20cm over the pan), add the cumin and mustard seeds. Thirty seconds later, when they pop, add the onion, fennel and dill, and cook, stirring every now and then, until soft and caramelised, which should take about 20 minutes.

Add the chillies and garlic, stir-fry for three minutes more, then tip into the lentil pot along with the coconut milk; if the mixture looks as if it could do with being a bit looser, add a little water. Bring the mix up to a bubble, then take off the heat and stir through the lime juice. Taste and adjust the salt, lime and/or chilli as you wish.

Decant into a serving bowl, garnish with a couple of sprigs of dill and serve with steamed basmati or jasmine rice.