Variety is a big part of my diet. In the three years I worked as a personal chef, I only repeated recipes a handful of times, and those were requests. I figure I love food and love to eat and I want to make as many different things as I can in my lifetime. Of course, I have my go-to meals but I really do try and have variety in our food lives.
And then there are the things that I could eat every single day and be totally happy. Good french fries with ketchup. Noodle soups like this one, noodle dishes like this one (yes, I have a thing for Asian noodles) could fulfill me until the end of my days. And any kind of red lentil dish is on that list too.
If you have never cooked with red lentils, you are in for a treat. They are among the fastest cooking of beans and they change utterly and completely from raw to cooked. Raw they are bright orange (in spite of their name) and look like flat pebbles. Cooked they become a mellow yellow and they lose their shape. Depending on how much liquid is in your dish, they can loosely resemble other lentils, or they can disappear completely. They, like other lentils, are high in protein and fiber, yet low in calories and fat. They require no pre-soaking time.
On Thursday, I crossed the Sound and did a cooking lesson for a group of extraordinary women. We have been talking about doing a class for months and I gave serious thought to what I wanted to cook. In the end, I decided to make a full meal and it took me about one second to decide to feature a red lentil dhal.
Because I love red lentils and I love this family of spices, I have made various incarnations of this dish many times over the years. Of all the ones I have made, this is my favorite. It is very highly spiced – not hot, just spicy. One of the beauties of this dish is its adaptability. You could add all manner of vegetables (carrots, potatoes, zucchini, spinach come to mind). Or you could add more liquid, allow it to simmer away and turn it into a soup.
Red Lentil Dhal
Inspired by The Modern Vegetarian
This list of ingredients is long but much of it is spices. The stew actually comes together quite quickly.
Vegetable oil or grapeseed oil
2 tsp. cumin seeds
2 tsp. black or yellow mustard seeds
1 medium onion, finely diced
1 ½ inches of fresh ginger, peeled and minced
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 jalapeno chile, seeded, finely chopped
1 ½ tsp. curry powder
2 tsp. ground cumin
1 tsp. tumeric
Pinch of chile powder
1 tbsp. tomato paste
2 cups red lentils
2 cinnamon sticks (or 1, if large)|
2 cups water
1 15-oz. can “lite” coconut milk
Juice of 1 lemon
A bunch of mint, chopped
A bunch of cilantro, chopped
Heat just enough oil to coat the bottom of a large pan and add the mustard and cumin seeds. Be careful as they will begin to pop. Immediately add the onion, adjust the heat to medium, and cook until softened – about five minutes. Add the ginger, garlic, chile, curry powder, cumin, tumeric, and chile powder and fry for 3 minutes. Add the tomato paste and fry for 1 minute.
Add the lentils and stir to coat with the oil and spices. Add the cinnamon stick, water, and coconut milk. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat so the dhal is at a simmer. Cover partially and cook, stirring occasionally so it doesn’t stick to the bottom, until the lentils have partially lost their shape and are soft – about 15 minutes. Stir in more liquid as necessary for the consistency you want.
Remove from the heat, season with sea salt and add the lemon juice to taste. At this point, you can allow the dhal to cool and then cover and refrigerate it overnight. When reheating on the stove, you will need to add more liquid as it will thicken as it sits.
About 10 minutes before serving, add the herbs. You will want them to cook down a bit but not so much that they lose their color. Serve warm over basmati rice and with a raita if desired.