I have always had a passion for mountaineering. This dish, Dal (lentils) Bhat (rice), has its roots in the Himalayas of Nepal and thus, has a big influence on mountaineering in the area. On the trek into Everest base camp, dal bhat is basically the only meal served in the tea houses along the path. It is so closely tied to mountaineering that climbers often rate each day’s trek by the number of servings needed to complete it, such as a “2 dal bhat” climb or a “4 dal bhat” for something really strenuous. Every time I make this curry, I can almost picture myself at the 17,000-foot base camp, waiting to make a push for the summit.
It is no surprise to me that this dish of plant-based nutrition is what fuels climbers in the most strenuous environment in the world: carbs, protein, fiber, vegetables, vitamins, and spices. It is the most perfectly balanced meal. Like many Nepalese people prove every day, you could probably survive indefinitely on a diet of nothing but dal bhat.
This dal (lentil stew) is really similar to the chickpea curry I’ve made in the past. The flavors and technique both draw inspiration from the chickpea version, with some differences. It’s actually really easy to make and super flavorful with the spices. This one is a staple in my home and I hope you love it as much as I do.
Makes 4-5 servings
- 1 1/2 cups uncooked rice
- 1 cup dry Lentils (any color)
- 1 small yellow onion
- 3 cloves garlic
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 16 oz. canned tomatoes
- 1/3 cup cilantro
- 1 lime
- 1 red chili
- Spices to taste: Salt, Cumin, Coriander, Turmeric, Cayenne Pepper
Begin cooking the rice according to the package instructions (usually 2 parts water to 1 part rice). Once the rice is starting, chop the onion and garlic and add them to a large pan with a splash of olive oil.
Once the onions and garlic have softened, add the lentils and allow them to cook dry for a minute or two, then add about 3 cups of water into the pan, cover, and let cook. Once that water is absorbed (15+ minutes), add the spices to taste, the can of tomatoes, and more water (if needed). Simmer for another 10-15 minutes until the lentils are fully cooked and the flavors have melded together perfectly. Give them a taste and adjust any seasonings as needed.
At the very last minute, add a handful of chopped cilantro and remove from the heat. The rice should be cooked and fluffy at this point. To serve, add a few heaping spoons of rice to a plate and top with the lentils. Garnish with a lime wedge, some sliced chilies, and a sprig of cilantro.
And now, a picture looking back from just below the summit of Everest… Who wants to come with me?
credit: Jimmy Chin