Greatest recipes ever: Madhur Jaffrey’s red split lentils with lamb dalcha

Thomasina Miers picks Madhur Jaffrey’s red split lentils with lamb as one of her greatest recipes ever.

‘Madhur Jaffrey was my introduction to Indian cooking. My mother announced 10 years ago that, henceforth, she expected my father to cook for her every Saturday night, and it was to Madhur that he first turned. Since then, we’ve had mouth-watering mutton curries on Boxing Day with an amazing banana relish, some vegetable side dishes, homemade naan and pilau rice. I love this recipe from one of her very early books’ Thomasina Miers

Red split lentils cooked with lamb dalcha (serves 6)
Extract from Madhur Jaffrey’s A Taste of India
Published in 2001 by Pavilion Books

Not much lamb is used in this Hyderabadi dish, making it perfect for those who are trying to cut down on their meat intake. You may serve it with rice, some green vegetables and a yoghurt dish.


225g skinned red split lentils
½tsp ground turmeric
60ml vegetable oil
4cm cinnamon stick
6 whole cardamom pods
1 medium-sized onion, peeled, cut in half length-wise and then cut cross-wise into fine half rings
1tsp peeled and finely grated fresh ginger
225g boneless meat from lamb shoulder, cut into 2.5cm cubes
5ml finely crushed garlic
¾tsp red chilli powder (or cayenne pepper)
4½tsp salt
3tbsp tamarind pulp or about 2tbsp lemon juice
2tbsp ghee (or vegetable oil)
½tsp whole cumin seeds
1-2 dried whole hot red chillies
8-10 fresh or dried curry leaves
2 cloves of garlic, peeled and cut in half lengthways

Pick over the lentils and then wash them in several changes of water. Drain. Put them in a heavy-based pan. Add 900ml of water and the tumeric. Bring to a simmer. Cover, leaving the lid slightly ajar, and simmer gently for about 1¼ hours, or until the lentils are quite tender.

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While the lentils are cooking, prepare the meat. Heat the vegetable oil in a wide-based pan over a medium-high flame. When hot, put in the cinnamon and cardamom. Stir for a few seconds, or until the cardamom begins to darken a bit. Put in the onions and stir-fry until slightly browned.

Now, put in the meat, and stir it around until it browns a little. Next, add the ginger, garlic, ¼tsp red chilli powder and 3tsp of salt. Stir for 1 minute to allow the spices to brown. Now put in about 175ml of water and bring to a simmer very gently for 1-1¼ hours, or until the meat is tender. If the water boils away, just add a bit more.

When the lentils are tender, mash them lightly with the back of a spoon. Add the tamarind, the remaining 1½tsp of salt and ½tsp of red chilli powder. Stir to mix and taste for the balance of seasonings. Adjust, if necessary. When the meat is tender, pour the cooked, seasoned lentils over it. Stir to mix. Bring to a simmer and simmer gently, uncovered, for 1 minute.

Heat the ghee in a small frying pan over a medium flame. When hot, put in the whole cumin seeds. A few seconds later, put in the whole red chilli and the curry leaves. Stir. As soon as the chilli darkens a bit, put in the garlic cloves. Stir until the garlic turns a medium-brown in colour. Pour the contents of the frying pan over the lentil-meat combination. You may do this last step after you have put the dalcha into a serving dish. The seasonings scattered over the top serve as a garnish.