Indian spiced red lentils are a dish known as “dal.” Typically, dal is a side dish served in Indian restaurants meant to enhance the entree. This recipe stands on its own, and when done according to this recipe should have a nice bulkiness to it. Not only is this satisfying, the combination of rice and red lentils forms a complete protein, meaning all the essential amino acids your body cannot create are assembled, as if you ate a steak.
I often balance out this meal with a side of simple greens that literally takes minutes to assemble and cook up. For example, heat some extra virgin olive or coconut oil, saute 1/2 an onion (finely chopped), then add a couple of handfuls of spinach or swiss chard topped off with a splash of balsamic vinegar. As soon as the greens wilt and are a bright green, turn off the heat.
The red lentils are simmered in water for a 1-2 hours until they break down into a coarse mush. Set a timer so you don’t forget to stir occasionally!
Once the lentils break down, heat oil in a separate pan, add spices and salt, and stir a bit. The longer the spices remain in the oil the hotter their flavor, so when you make this the first time, pour the oil mixture into the lentils after only a few minutes, and be careful as heated oil will cause some splatter.
This recipe yields generous portions for two. Leftovers add flavor and texture to a stir-fry or soup. This recipe freezes well for a quick meal when time is short.
Ingredients for Indian Spiced Lentils
1 cup red lentils, rinsed
2 cups water
2-3 inches fresh ginger, sliced and diced
1 tsp turmeric, powdered
1 T asafoetida, found in Indian spice stores; asafoetida is a combination of ingredients that help digest beans and legumes- good to use whenever you make them.
Step 1: Put the lentils, water, ginger, turmeric, and asafoetida in a deep saucepan, bring to a boil, then simmer low-medium. If it gets foamy, just skim it off. Check and stir and add water if needed. Stirring prevents sticking at the bottom of the pan and speeds the breakdown process.
You’ll know they’re done when you smash some against the side easily. Adjust the water content- if it’s soupy thin, let that cook off, and if soupy thick add a bit of water. You have to experience it a couple of times to understand, but when this cools it has a “stand-on-its-own” bulkiness, not thin like a dressing.
¼ cup olive or canola oil
1 tsp salt
1 tsp cumin seeds
1 tsp mustard seeds
3 dried red chili peppers
Heat the oil in a small saucepan, add the mustard and cumin seeds, salt and peppercorns, then stir in the oil often until you hear the mustard seeds pop- depending on how hot the pan is this can happen within a couple of minutes or take 5-10 minutes. Once you get the popping, add the chili peppers and turn them after about a minute, the time it takes to darken the skin. Remove immediately.
Carefully pour into the lentils and stir to blend.
This is a classic and go-to recipe, easy to digest and always satisfying- and a complete protein from plant sources.
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