For some reason I had an urge to have lentils tonight. I was walking through the grocery store and noticed them, and suddenly had to have them. Hey, for once I was craving something healthy! So I got a bag of dry lentils knowing that I could come home to my trusty 1000 Indian Recipes book by Neelam Batra. It is not kidding, it has 1000 recipes. It is a bit overwhelming at times, but it has never lead me astray.
The original name was “Dry Cooked Red Lentils with Cumin Seeds.” I decided not to go with that because (1) I only had green lentils, (2) I didn’t have any cumin seeds, only ground cumin, and (3) it sounds boring. A risotto is a way of making rice so that it is flavorful but still a little crunchy. It also gets across the idea that this isn’t a lentil soup, but a dry lentil dish.
Daal is actually the Indian word for lentils, not a way of cooking them. So if you see daal at an Indian restaurant it can mean a whole variety of different legumes. Lentils are a legume like beans and peas, but they are smaller. I think that I may have done an educational section about lentils before. But since I expect that no one reads this blog regularly (not even my husband or mother) I feel safe talking about them again.
There are many types of lentils. You can get them in red, green, yellow, brown, or black. Usually in your normal grocery store you will see a bag of green lentils. If you want the fancier kind you can always go to your local natural foods store. Lentils have an extraordinary amount of protein and iron–third in plant form only to soybeans and hemp. For that reason, lentils have been a very important part of the diet of those who live on the Indian subcontinent. Since Hindus are generally vegetarian, this is one of the only good sources of protein easily available. They have a ton of other nutrients like many amino acids, folate, B1, and dietary fiber.
Here’s a fun fact: even though India consumes 1/3rd of the world’s lentil output, Canada actually exports more than India. Saskatchewan is the province that produces the most in the country. Lentils are grown in pods of 2 “peas” apiece. I can only imagine how tedious it must have been to separate the seed from the chaff before modern machines. I feel lucky that I can buy them in a bag.
Lentils were a very early domesticated plant. They have been found in the archeological record as far back as 8000 years–before the invention of pottery. It is believed that they originated, along with most grains, in the Middle East, they are still a popular food there. They then spread all over Asia, Europe, and Africa. Eventually they were brought to the Americas, though they are not as popular here as elsewhere in the world (I don’t know why, they are delicious).
This recipe is so flavorful and delicious. It was originally made for red lentils, and included beets for an even better color. Though I intend to try that way some time, this is what I did tonight. Also, I sped up the preparation of the lentils. It said soak them cold for 2 hours in 2 cups of water. But I wanted my lentils now, so I boiled them for 20 min in 4 cups water.
- 1 cup lentils
- 4 cups water
- 2 T vegetable oil
- 3-5 dried red chile peppers, like chile de arbol. I didn’t have any, so I substituted 1 tsp dry red pepper flakes. Turns out that when roasted, they get SUPER hot (I had to have every bite with the same amount of plain yogurt to stand it). So I would recommend 1/2 or 1/4 tsp dry red pepper flakes if you have to substitute.
- 1.5 tsp cumin seeds (I just left this out)
- 1 T minced FRESH ginger (I suggest the kind in the jar, it’s way easier).
- 2 tsp ground coriander
- 1 tsp ground cumin (or 1/2 tsp if you used whole cumin seeds)
- 1/2 tsp garam masala
- 1/4 tsp fenugreek (if you have it)
- 1/4 tsp turmeric
- 1 clove fresh garlic, minced
- 1/2 tsp salt, or to taste
- 1/4 cup finely chopped cilantro, including tender small stems
- 1 T fresh lime or lemon juice
- 4 scallions, thinly sliced.
- Bring the water to a boil. Boil the lentils for 20 min, or until slightly over al dente (to mix my international cooking terms), and they have absorbed much, though not all, of the water.
- Right before the lentils are done, start with the seasonings. Get everything you are going to need together, it goes very fast. You just want to be able to dump it in.
- Heat the oil in a med saucepan over medium heat. Cook the red chile peppers until golden, about 1 min. (If you are using red pepper flakes, don’t put them in now. They will burn. Just skip this step).
- Add the cumin seeds if you have them. They will sizzle, go right to the next step. If not, skip this step too.
- Toss in the fresh ginger and garlic and stir, cook for 1 minute.
- Add the dry spices and stir together. My lentils were not done yet, so I let my spices continue to roast over very low heat until the lentils were done.
- Add the lentils, including the water, to the pan and stir until the spices are well distributed.
- Cook over med-low heat for about 5 min, or until most of the liquid has evaporated. Stir in the cilantro and lime/lemon juice and let cook 2 more min to incorporate.
- Put the lentils in a serving dish and toss in the scallions.
- Optional: dice onions and carrots and caramelize them in the oil before you add in the other seasonings. If you do this, you will want to start to cook them after you have the lentils in cooking, it will take longer. Make sure you cut the carrots up small. You don’t want huge pieces, and you want them to be able to cook with the onions.