Ottawa·Video

How to up your lentil game — without getting too spicy

In this series we're calling What I Bring to the Table, CBC Ottawa asked four newcomers to cook a dish from home for a new friend. Here, newcomer Naina Kansal teaches new friend Rebekkah Hall how to up her lentil game, while soothing her spice stress.

CBC Ottawa launches a video series asking newcomers to teach a friend how to make a dish from home

CBC Ottawa asked four newcomers to cook a dish from home for a new friend. Here, newcomer Naina Kansal teaches new friend Rebekkah Hall how to up her lentil game, while soothing her spice stress. 5:09

Naina Kansal and Rebekkah Hall jump as the pot in front of them lets off a whistling burst of steam. Giggling, Kansal explains that means the pressure cooker is done, and it's time for the lentils inside to join the onions and spices bubbling in the frying pan nearby.

"The big mistake I used to make is to not let the spices sit in the oil. It would taste not Indian enough," she said.

Hall looks dubious as Kansal pours the lentils into the mix, which features colourful cumin, coriander, red chili pepper and turmeric. She is no fan of spice.

"I think pepper is as hard as I can go, because I cry — like, it's bad," Hall said. "My dad's actually from the Caribbean, and so it's common in his culture to have spice. But when we were young he didn't put much spice in our stuff, and if he did, well, obviously I wasn't going to eat it." 

Hall is dubious as Kansal adds more spice to the onions and oil mixture for the dal tarka. (Fangliang Xu)

Kansal came to Canada a little over two years ago from India. She met Hall at Algonquin College, where they both work.

Their desks are near each other, and Hall became intrigued by Kansal's homemade lunches

"I love food. I can't cook very well — not even my own cultural meals. I'm super basic. I just learned how to cook rice," said Hall, who hoped Kansal could help her "up her lentil game."

Kansal uses a wide range of spices for her version of dal tarka, including some she buys at specialty Indian grocers in Ottawa. (Fangliang Xu)

Kansal chose dal tarka as the dish to teach Hall, since it's a basic lentil curry that is also her dad's absolute favourite.

"You know, my dad could go anywhere and they would ask him, what do you want to eat? And he would say dal," Kansal said.

Kansal adds the tempered ghee and spices to the curry, then plates it in special divided dishes she brought from India. There are separate spots for yogurt, chutney, naan and rice.

Rebekkah Hall calls Naina Kansal's pressure cooker the 'cool pot.' She learned how to use it recently to make flavourful lentils for the Indian dish dal tarka. (Fangliang Xu)

The two dig in. 

Kansal said it's a nice feeling to be able to show someone in her new home how to cook something from her birthplace.

"You know, there's this respect and a welcoming feel. I don't feel like I moved away from family, because if my brother or sister would like to learn this from me, it's kind of the same feeling."

Rebekkah Hall, left, and Naina Kansal, right, show off the finished Indian dish, dal tarka, with all the trimmings, served in special dishes Kansal brought to Canada from India. (Fangliang Xu)

Hall appreciated the lesson, too, and got a nice surprise when it was time to taste the dal.

"I was so relieved when it was not spicy!" she said.