Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Indian curried lentils

Last night, I made Indian curried lentils—a dish so good and so easy, that I make so often, I’ve got it memorized.

This curry is made with masoor dal, a red lentil which is (to my knowledge) the quickest-cooking of them all. The lentils are very small, and break down considerably when cooked. That makes this curry of the very saucy variety—in fact, if you add another cup or so of water to this recipe, you will have a delicious lentil soup. Masoor dal can be found at any Indian market, and they’re also sold in bulk at my local Wild Oats, which means you can likely get them at Whole Foods as well.

Before you get started on the lentils, set a pot of rice cooking. I use brown basmati rice, so I soak 1 cup of it in water for 10-20 minutes, then bring it to a boil with 1 3/4 cup water. When it boils, I put on the lid, turn the heat to low, and simmer for 25 minutes. (If you use any other type of rice, cooking time will of course vary.) When it’s done, just set it aside to cool. I do all this, by the way, while the lentils are cooking.

And now, the ingredients.

1T corn or canola oil
1/2 tsp cumin seeds
1 medium onion, finely chopped
1/2 tsp turmeric
Dash of ginger
1 jalapeno, minced (optional)
2+ cloves garlic, minced
1 cup masoor dal (red lentils)
3 1/2 cups water
1/2 cup frozen peas, thawed
2-4T chopped cilantro (optional)

Heat up the oil (in either a saucepan or a very large skillet) over medium heat. Add the cumin seeds, and stir those around until they’re fragrant, about 2 minutes. Oh, how I love cumin.

Add the onion next, along with the turmeric and ginger, and cook and stir till the onion softens, about 4-5 minutes. Throw in the garlic and jalapeno and cook for another minute or so. This smells AMAZING.

The lentils come next. Supposedly you have to rinse these before using, but I never do, and have never had a problem. I like to put these in the skillet and stir them around for a minute with the onions to toast them up a bit. I have absolutely no evidence that this does anything at all for the flavor, but hey, I like to think I’m innovative.

Then just dump in the water, all at once. It will instantly turn that beautiful turmeric-yellow. Take that, inflammation. (Don’t you know? They’ve found that turmeric has anti-inflammatory properties.)

I bring the mixture to a boil over medium heat, then turn the heat to medium-low to simmer it. I set my timer for 25 minutes (if you’re really cool, you can synchronize the rice cooking time with the lentils). I come back to it every few minutes to stir it. After 25 minutes, if it still looks too thin, I turn the heat back up to medium and boil it for an extra 5 minutes. That usually does the trick.

MMM. Remember, it’s supposed to be slightly thin. It should be scoopable, but still soupy. By now, your rice should be cooked too.

If you’ve thawed your peas, throw them right in. You can use still-frozen ones if you forgot, but put them in during the last 3-5 minutes of cooking.

Done! Remove from the heat and stir in your chopped cilantro. Season to taste with salt (I usually add close to a teaspoon), and serve over or alongside the rice.

It is SO good, and so customizable. Don’t like jalapenos or cilantro? Leave them out. Love garlic like me? Add six cloves instead of two. Not a fan of peas? Try green beans. With the right timing, this makes a quick and non-labor-intensive weeknight meal. I would love for someone out there to try this, and let me know if you enjoyed it as much as I do.

Yield: 4 servings. Per serving (without rice): 228 calories, 4.6g fat (trace sat), 33.6g carbs, 8.5g fiber, 14.3g protein.

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