Dal is a real Indian comfort food and is present at every meal. It is made from protein-packed lentils or other small legumes. This dal is creamy and thick and made with quick-cooking split... red lentils. Sometimes vegetables are added to dal, and the tender butternut squash in this one makes it deliciously autumnal. To up the health ante, there’s also cancer-fighting turmeric and chilies, plus star anise and ginger to aid digestion. And the Indian method of adding hot, spiced oil at the end of cooking, adds a brightness and depth to the flavor that turns this dal into a satisfying meal.
Put the lentils, squash, water, star anise, turmeric, and ginger into a heavy pot with a lid. Bring to a boil, skimming off any scum that forms on top.
Add salt, then turn the heat down to low and cover. Simmer until the lentils are soft and breaking up, and the squash is just cooked, about 25 to 30 minutes. Keep an eye on the lentils as they thicken and soften. They will need stirring to stop them sticking to the bottom of the pan. When the lentils are thick and creamy looking, and the squash is cooked, remove from the heat, and discard the ginger and star anise. Cover and set aside. Add a little hot water if the mixture looks dry. Start the spiced oil.
Heat the ghee or oil in a small skillet over a medium-high heat. When it has completely melted and starts to ripple with heat, add the cumin seeds. As soon as they start to darken, about 30 seconds, add the garlic and chili pods, cook, stirring constantly. As soon as the garlic colors and the chili pods have darkened to a deep red, add the basil and cilantro. They will spit and sizzle. Cook for a minute, then pour the entire contents of the skillet over the lentil-squash mixture and stir in. Serve immediately with brown basmati rice.
Ghee is clarified butter. You can usually find it in the oil section of the supermarket. It also exists in a vegan version, but coconut oil works just as well, if you need a dairy-free option.
Dried chilies are not as hot used whole as when they are broken up. It’s the pith and seeds inside that add the extra heat.