Lentils are considered a “superfood,” providing both a source of high protein and fiber (soluble and insoluble), iron, as well as folate, which reduces the risk of birth defects. Its high fiber content makes it an anti-cancer food.
Lentils come in different colors – red, yellow, green and black, and are eaten all over the world, including the Near East, India, France, Italy, Greece and China.
Lentils are inexpensive and easy to cook, as no soaking is needed, and they cook in 10-40 minutes, depending on the variety. Two of my favorite lentil dishes are Melissa Clark’s Red Lentil Soup and Dals, an India preparation of lentils, a stew-like concoction which contain various fragrant spices.
Dals are prepared using different types of lentils (to be discussed further in another blog entry), cooked with spices, and typically finished with sauteed onions, garlic and ginger, and more spices for a spark of flavor. Today, I made this dal from Suvir Saran’s cookbook, Indian Home Cooking (I doubled the recipe to make sure I had extras), which I highly recommend for anyone interested in preparing easy, authentic Indian dishes at home.
Simple Lentil Dal with Whole Cinnamon, Cardamon and Cloves
- 1 1/2 tablespoon oil
- 1 stick cinnamon
- 1 teaspoon cumin seeds
- 3 whole cloves
- 4 green cardamon pods
- 1 cup lentils washed, drained
- 1/2 teaspoon turmeric
- 4 cups cold water
- 1 teaspoon salt or to taste
- 1 tablespoon oil
- 1 medium onion finely chopped
- 3 cloves garlic mashed to a paste
- 1 tablespoon ginger minced
- 1 hot green chile pepper minced, remove seeds for less heat
- 1/4 cup fresh cilantro chopped
- 1/2 lemon or lime
Heat the oil with the cinnamon stick in a large saucepan over medium-high heat. Cook, stirring, until the cinnamon unfurls, 1 to 2 minutes.
Add the cumin, cloves, and cardamom and cook, stirring, until the cumin turns a golden brown color, about 1 more minute. Add the lentils, turmeric, water, and salt. Bring to a boil and skim well, Turn down the heat and simmer, covered, until the lentils are soft, 20 to 40 minutes, depending on the type of lentil used. Add more water during cooking, if necessary. Taste for salt and add more if you need to.
Remove cinnamon stick. Use immersion blender to gently puree some of the lentils. Alternatively, ladle about 1/2 cup of the lentils into a small bowl and mash them with a spoon. Return the mashed lentils to the pot and give the dal a stir. Continue cooking at a simmer, uncovered, for 5 minutes to thicken. If you like a thicker dal, puree more of the lentils until you reach the desired consistency. If you like a thinner dal, add water.
Heat the oil in a small saucepan over medium-high heat. Add the onion and cook until it just begins to brown around the edges, 4 to 5 minutes. Add the garlic paste, ginger, and minced chile and cook just to mellow the raw taste of the garlic, 10 to 15 seconds.
Finishing The Dish
Stir half of the tempering oil into the dal along with half of the cilantro and all of the lemon or lime juice. Simmer very gently for 5 minutes Transfer the dal to a serving bowl, pour the remaining tempering oil over the top, and sprinkle with the remaining cilantro. Serve hot with basmati rice and Indian bread (naan or kulcha are my favorites).
Adapted from Indian Home Cooking, by Suvir Saran