Rating: 5/5 stars. The complex flavors of this red lentil dal with onions come together quickly and simply–an excellent weeknight meal!
Like most of America, Rob and I spent a lot of this week making plans for the billion plus dollars of lottery winnings that were sure to be ours Wednesday night. In this, as in most things, we tended towards the self-righteous. We wouldn’t buy a boat. Too much work! We wouldn’t buy a million-dollar home (which, in Chattanooga, is quite a home). Too much unused space! Too much furniture to buy! We briefly considered chartering planes for all our travel (because commercial flying = the worst), but then we looked up how much that cost and decided it would be too wasteful. Instead, we discussed charities we would donate to or found–industries that hire ex-cons, daycares that provide quality child care to low-income mothers, scholarship funds for undocumented kids. (See? I told you we were self-righteous!)
We agreed on at least one selfish project, though: a wall of built-in bookshelves for our living room. Our three ancient Ikea shelves are all literally double-booked. Rob’s calculus books are starting to feel like second class citizens because they’re tucked away behind the newfangled Mathematical Methods for Foreign Exchange. My Dickens collection has outgrown its cozy cubby. But we can’t help ourselves–we always buy more books. It’s a compulsion.
Alas, we didn’t win the lottery. But built-ins may still be in our future at some point. We seriously do need more bookshelf space, not only for Dickens and Microwave Spectroscopy(???), but also for my growing collection of cookbooks, including Vegetarian India, a Christmas gift from my brother. Thanks, Mills!
Indian food tops my list of favorite global cuisines. After Christmas, I made a trip to one of Chattanooga’s several (can you believe it?) Indian grocers to gather everything I’d need to start cooking from my new book. I bought several bags of lentils, tons of spices, and a block of frozen paneer that I’m saving for a special occasion.
Today’s red lentil dal is my first foray into this particular cookbook. The original recipe didn’t have quite the flavor complexity that I wanted, so I combined its delicious onion-cumin topping with the spices from a New York Times dal recipe. And wow, what a marriage. This recipe is going to be a go-to in 2016, for sure.
Time Commitment: This clocks in at 40-45 minutes, well within my range of acceptable time-frames for a weeknight dinner. Also, some of that time is hands-off, meaning that I managed to “play bubbles” with #1 AND get her started with some painting. (But then I got distracted making the topping and she painted all over the table, so there’s that.)
Mess: Prepare yourself to wash some pots and pans, because this requires two, plus a third if you want to make rice. Still, that’s a small price for such an otherwise quick and easy dal.
Mom Fails: Not today, folks, not today.
Red Lentil Dal
(Source: adapted from Madhur Jaffrey’s Vegetarian India and http://cooking.nytimes.com/recipes/7517-red-lentil-dal)
Serves 4, with rice or naan
- 4 tbsp vegetable or olive oil, divided
- 1 c red lentils
- 1/2 c canned crushed or diced tomato
- 2 tsp ground coriander
- 2 tsp ground cumin
- 2 tsp tumeric
- 1 tsp ground ginger
- 1 tsp salt (or to taste)
- 1 small sweet onion or shallot, sliced into thin strips
- 2 dried red chilies
- 1/2 tsp whole cumin seeds
- Heat 2 tbsp oil in a medium saucepan. Toss in spices (coriander, cumin, tumeric, and ginger) and sauté, stirring, for 30 seconds.
- Add lentils, tomato, and 4 cups water. Bring to a boil; then turn down heat and simmer, covered, for 10 minutes. Uncover and cook for 15-20 more minutes, until lentils are soft and not too watery. Salt to taste.
- About 10 minutes after you start cooking the lentils, begin the onion topping. In a small pan, heat the other 2 tbsp oil. Add chilies and cumin seeds and cook for 1-2 minutes. (Be careful, as the oil has a tendency to splatter at this phase.) Then add onion or shallot. Cook 5-7 minutes, stirring frequently, until onion is beginning to turn brown.
- Pour onion mixture over lentils and immediately cover pot to trap aromas.
- Serve with rice or naan.