Dhal is one of those thick soup-like dishes we make in the Caribbean, especially those islands where there’s an East Indian influence. Basically split peas soup, enhanced with turmeric and in some cases… salted meats, as we’ll be using today. Very similar to the traditional dhal recipe and the lentil peas mixed dhal recipe I shared a while back, this one is just as tasty but not vegetarian as those two earlier versions.
Though nothing beats a good serving of dhal, rice and tomato choka, I do enjoy a hot bowl of dhal, cooked with pieces of salted pig tail… especially when I’m home sick and miss my boyhood days on the islands.
1lb salted pigtail
2 cups yellow split peas
4 cloves garlic
1/2 teaspoon turmeric (saffron)
8 cups water
1/2 small onion
1/4 scotch bonnet pepper (I used 2 bird peppers)
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
1/4 teaspoon toasted geera seeds (cumin) * See notes below
2 tablespoon vegetable oil
* Notes: You can soak the split peas overnight in cool water for faster cooking time. Traditionally at the end of cooking toasted geera (cumin) seeds are added to the dhal for an enhanced flavor. I’m not a fan of geera, so you’ll notice that I didn’t add any to my pot of dhal. The salted pigtial should be enough to ‘salt’ this dish, but do taste near the end of cooking and adjust accordingly.
The first thing we’ve got to do is to remove some of the salt from the pieces of pig tail (trust me, salted pig tails are very salty). BTW I cut the pieces of pig tail into 1-1.5 inch pieces, then placed them in a pot with water. As it came to a boil I reduced the heat and allowed it to go on a rolling boil for about 20-25 minutes. The idea is to get the pieces a bit tender and remove some of the salt it’s been cured with. Drain, rinse under cool water a couple times and get ready to add to the main pot with the other ingredients.
Now it’s time to prep everything else and get the dhal cooking as it will take a while to simmer and get tender.. unless you’re using a pressure cooker (I don’t own one).
In a deep pot, put the 8 cups of water to boil. As this comes to a boil, place the split peas in a bowl and rinse with cool water.. drain and repeat. Try to work the peas between your fingers (massage), as to remove any sort of grit.
The water should be boiling at this point, so gently add the washed split peas, pieces of salted pig tail which be pre-boiled earlier, turmeric, the sliced onion, black pepper, scotch bonnet pepper and 2 cloves of the garlic (sliced thin). Bring that to a boil.. as it boils you will notice some frothy residue form at the top of the pot. Skim that off and discard. Now reduce to a very gentle simmer, cover the pot (leave a small crack open) and allow to cook for at least 1.5 hrs. Be sure to stir every 10 minutes or so.
After 1.5 hrs you should have peas which are starting to melt away and create that thick goodness dhal is famous for. You can now use a whisk or as I did.. a swizzle stick and break down the full peas a bit (refer to the video below). I’m sure you can use one of those electric immersion blenders, but try not to over do it or risk the dhal going foamy/frothy. Additionally, you’ll have to remove the pieces of slated pig tail from the pot before using the electric blender.
You should now have a thick soup-like consistency, that’s ready for the final step. Turn off the burner as it’s done cooking now.
In a small frying pan, heat the oil until it’s about to smoke, then add the other 2 cloves of garlic (sliced) and allow to cook for a couple minutes. The garlic will go golden, then proceed to go a bit black.. that’s what were looking for. Here is where you would also add the cumin seeds if you want to give it that unique (traditional) flavor. Now (be careful as you’re adding hot oil to liquid) add the heated oil with the cooked garlic slices to the pot with the cooked split peas (should be off the burner now). I use the lid of the pot as a shield with one hand and pour the heated oil with the other.
This step of adding the hot oil with cooked garlic to the pot with the cooked split peas is called “chunkay”. Now you can tell your friends that you’ve chunkayed dhal (smile). Stir the pot good and pour yourself a big bowl.. you deserve it! Remember we didn’t add any salt to this dhal as the pieces of salted pig tail should have been enough to give it enough flavor. However your tolerance for salt will be different than mine.. so taste and adjust accordingly.
The pieces of burnt garlic will look a bit weird (if you’ve never had dhal before) floating on the surface of the pot, but I assure you that this is normal and you’ll love the extra roasted/smokey sort of garlic flavor for it all.