(Adapted from www.splendidtable.org)
1 cup yellow split peas
2 small potatoes (Yukon gold), scrubbed and cut into 1/2-inch cubes
1/2 teaspoon ground turmeric
2 teaspoons (or to taste) crushed red chili peppers
1 tablespoon coriander seeds
1 teaspoon cumin seeds
1 medium-size tomato, cored, and diced
2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh cilantro leaves and tender stems (optional)
1 teaspoon coarse kosher or sea salt
Measure the peas into a medium-sized saucepan. Cover them with water and rinse by rubbing them between your fingertips (I just use the fingers of one hand). The water will become cloudy and may have some debris, like the odd skin from the peas (even though they are skinless). Drain this water. Repeat twice. Measure and pour 3 to 4 cups water into the pan and bring to a boil over medium-high heat. You will see some foam; scoop it out and discard, or drain it and add fresh water and bring to a boil again.
Add potatoes and turmeric to the peas, stirring once or twice. Lower the heat to medium-low and cover. Stir occasionally, until peas are tender but still firm-looking and potatoes are cooked, 20 to 25 minutes. The peas often stick to the bottom of the pan.
While the peas and potatoes cook, preheat a small skillet over medium-high heat. Once the pan feels hot (a palm held close to the bottom will feel the heat), about 2 to 4 minutes, sprinkle the chilies, coriander, and cumin into it. Toast the spices, shaking the pan very frequently, until the chilies darken and smell smoky-hot and the seeds turn reddish brown and smell incredibly aromatic (nutty with citrus undertones), 1 to 2 minutes. Transfer this spice blend to a blender or food processor and plunk in the tomato. Puree, scraping the insides of the jar as needed, to make a smooth, reddish-brown paste.
Once the peas are cooked, scrape the spiced (as in well-seasoned) tomato paste into the pan. I usually pour some of the liquid from the pan into the blender or processor container and process it for a brief second to wash all the goodness into the water. Pour the washings back into the pot. Stir in the salt.
Crank up the heat to medium and boil the dal, uncovered, stirring occasionally, to allow the flavors to mingle and the sauce to slightly thicken, 10 to 15 minutes. If you want a thicker sauce, mash some of the peas and potatoes with the back of your spoon. Serve warm. Add cilantro during the cooking or add as a garnish before serving.
YIELD: 6 servings