Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Savory Red Lentils

This has been a work-lunch staple for me for a few years now because it's so simple to make. I just made it this afternoon and, though she was fussy from molar teething, Elspeth liked it, too. I make the homemade curry powder since it lasts for a long time (I know I keep my ground spices longer than I should, but it still tastes good to me even after a few months) but I'm sure you could use store-bought.

The recipe is adapted from the "Dal with Chapati Pasta and Spinach" recipe in Laxmi Hiremath's The Dance of Spices Indian cookbook. I made it as written and liked it, but liked the simplicity of omitting the chapati pasta aspect and found that red lentils worked better than yellow split peas.

3 TBSP vegetable oil
2 tsp yellow or brown mustard seeds (I use one of each)
1/2 tsp turmeric
2 cups red lentils, picked over and rinsed
6 cups water
1 TBSP homemade curry powder (recipe below) or storebought
1 1/4 tsp salt
1 tsp cayenne (optional-I used to add this but omitted it for Elspeth's benefit)
2 cups chopped fresh spinach or other greens (optional, but very tasty addition!)

  1. If you have a splatter screen, get it ready! Heat the oil in a large (I use a 3qt) heavy saucepan over medium-high heat until it has a sheen. Add the mustard seeds and immediately cover with the spatter screen. Shake the pan and wait until the seeds have stopped popping (this can take over a minute if your pan wasn't hot enough).
  2. Add the turmeric and stir until fragrant (a few seconds)
  3. Add the lentils and water and bring to a boil. Once it's boiling, add the rest of the spices and turn heat to low. Cook until the lentils are very soft and most of the liquid has been absorbed.
  4. Take the lentils off the heat and stir in the spinach. If using other heartier greens you may wish to leave on the stove for a few minutes, but I usually don't. You could also cook the green separately and add to each dish.
This dish is great over rice or millet. Toasted cashews make a nice addition.


1/2 cup coriander seeds
2 tsp black peppercorns
1 1/2 tsp yellow or brown mustard seeds
1 tsp cumin seeds
1/2 tsp fenugreek seeds (I'm pretty sure I've omitted these when I didn't have any)
1/2 tsp whole cloves
2-inch cinnamon stick, broken
4 green cardamom pods, seeds only
10 kari leaves (optional--I've never found these or used them)
1/2 tsp vegetable oil
4 small, hot dried red chilis (I'm sure you could omit these)


  1. Combine the coriander, peppercorns, mustard, cumin and fenugreek seeds, cloves, cinnamon and kari leaves in a 10 or 12 inch heavy skillet over medium heat.
  2. Toast the spices, stirring frequently, until they are aromatic and darken slightly (5-6 minutes). Place mixture in a bowl.
  3. Put the same pan on medium heat and add the oil. When it is hot, add the chilis. Toast until they're darkened and turn reddish, about 2 minutes. Remove from heat and put in the same bowl with the other spices.
  4. After letting the mix cool slightly, grind in a coffee mill or spice grinder (we have a burr grinder, which works great).
  5. Pour into an airtight container. Give the powder a mix and let cool before putting on a lid. Close tightly and store at room temperature. May also be stored in the fridge for prolonged freshness.

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