This dal (made with quick-cooking red lentils) is about as simple as dal gets. A lump of butter stirred in at the end makes it nice and creamy, but to keep it vegan you can just use a little neutral oil instead (or leave it out entirely).
2 tablespoons peanut oil
1 large onion, chopped
1 cup dried red lentils, washed and picked over
2 tablespoons minced fresh ginger
1 tablespoon minced garlic
1 tablespoon mustard seeds
1 teaspoon cracked black pepper
2 tablespoons cold butter (optional)
Chopped fresh cilantro leaves for garnish
1. Put oil in a skillet over medium high heat; when it is hot, add onion and cook until soft, about 10 minutes; set aside.
2. Meanwhile, combine all remaining ingredients except the salt, butter and cilantro in a saucepan. Add water to cover by about 1 inch, and bring to a boil. Adjust heat so mixture bubbles gently, and cook, stirring occasionally and adding water if necessary, until lentils are tender, 15 to 20 minutes. Sprinkle with salt and more pepper and keep cooking to desired tenderness. Lentils should be saucy but not soupy.
3. Remove cloves from pan and add reserved sautéed onion. Stir in butter if you are using it. Taste and adjust seasoning, then garnish with cilantro and serve.