Sunday, October 16, 2011

Recipe for Indian-Style Red Lentils with Ginger (Red Lentil Dal)

I'm not claiming this recipe for Red Lentil Dal is 100% authentically Indian, but it's easy and delicious.

One of the classic dishes in Indian cuisine is dal (also spelled dahl, daal, or dhal.)  There are endless variations of this dish of split legumes or dried beans, simmered with spices until they are falling-apart soft and then often combined with a mixture of oil or ghee, fried onions, peppers and more spices.   The world dal refers to the cooked dish and also the split legumes or beans it's made of and in various parts of India different types of dal are eaten with rice, vegetables, or Indian flatbreads such as Roti.   I suppose the Mexican dish of refried beans is something you could compare this to if you're completely unfamiliar with Indian food, although that's an enormous simplification of something that's such a vital part of Indian cuisine.

I've admitted many times to being intimidated by Indian cooking, but recently I spotted a little book called Betty Crocker Easy Indian that had a lot of recipes that looked tasty, easy, and not completely Americanized (despite the name Betty Crocker on the book.)  I made this recipe a couple of times to get a version I was happy with, and the one I'm sharing here produces slightly-spicy dal that's fragrant and delicious.  I ate this with low-carb flour tortillas, but any kind of Indian bread or even pita bread would be good.  And I'm feeling a little proud that despite my aversion to blogging schedules I've managed to have a meatless recipe on the blog again in time for Meatless Monday.  (You can use that link to see the other meatless recipes I've shared since I started doing Meatless Monday or check Vegetarian Recipes in the archives for more meatless options.)

It's essential to use red lentils for this dish, because they cook quickly and dissolve, producing the creamy texture that makes dal so good.  Rinse the lentils with cold water until there is no more cloudiness; then drain.

Simmer the lentils with 1 teaspoon of ground turmeric added for about 20 minutes.  (Turmeric is the ingredient that makes curry powder yellow if you're not familiar with it.)

Here's how the lentils look when they're done.  They should be soft, turned a slightly golden color from the turmeric, and most of the water should be absorbed.

While lentils cook, chop up two small onions and 2 tablespoons of finely minced fresh ginger.

This is completely inauthentic, but I used a small can of diced green chile peppers to replace the chopped fresh chiles the recipe called for.  (I'm kind of a lightweight on spicy food and I know how hot these canned chiles are, but if you like it hot use fresh Thai, Seranno, or Cayenne pepper, chopped.)

Heat the olive oil in a heavy skillet, then add the cumin seeds and "sizzle" for 30 seconds.  Add the onions and saute for about 1 minute.

Add the ginger and cook about 2-3 minutes, stirring a few times.  (If you're using chopped fresh chiles, add them with the ginger.)

Then add the canned green chiles with juice and cook 2 minutes more.

Add the softened lentils and liquid, adding about 1/4 cup more water if there isn't much water left in the pan.  Season with 1 tsp. salt and simmer on low heat until the lentils are mostly dissolves and the liquid is mostly evaporated.

I'm guessing it's a personal preference how "soupy" you like the finished dal to be, but here's how mine looked when I stopped cooking it.  You can see the lentil shapes a little, but if you touch them they're mostly dissolved and they're slightly thick.  Eat hot, with chopped cilantro or green onions sprinkled on if desired.


Indian-Style Red Lentils with Ginger (Red Lentil Dal)
(Makes 6-8 servings as a side dish or snack, recipe adapted from Betty Crocker Easy Indian.)

Ingredients:
2 cups dried red lentils, rinsed, and drained
1 tsp. ground turmeric
5 cups water
2 T grapeseed oil (or other neutral-flavored oil)
2 tsp. cumin seeds
2 small onions, chopped
2 T finely diced fresh ginger root
1 can (4 oz.) diced anaheim chiles with juice (or for more heat use 3 fresh Thai, Serrano, or Cayenne peppers, seeds removed and chopped)
1 tsp. salt
chopped cilantro or sliced green onions for garnish (optional)

Instructions:
If you buy lentils in bulk you may need to pick over the lentils to see if there are any stray rocks or other types of legumes mixed in.  Rinse lentils with cold water until the water is not cloudy, then drain into a fine strainer.  Put 5 cups water in a medium saucepan, add lentils and turmeric, and simmer until the lentils are starting to soften and water is mostly absorbed.  This will take 15-25 minutes, depending on how fresh your lentils are.

While lentils are cooking, chop the onion, peel and finely dice the ginger root, and chop fresh chiles (if using).  Heat the oil in a large heavy skillet, add the cumin seeds, and "sizzle" them for 30 seconds.  Add the onions and stir-fry about 1 minute.  Add the minced ginger root and stir-fry 2-3 minutes more or until the onions and ginger are both starting to soften and slightly brown.  (If you're using fresh chiles, add them with the ginger.)  Add the can of diced green chiles with juice and cook about 2 minutes more.

When lentils are soft, add them to the pan with the cumin seeds, onions, ginger, and chiles, and season with 1 tsp. salt.  If there isn't much more water left in the lentils add 1/4 cup more water and then cook at a low simmer about 10-15 minutes more, or until the lentils are mostly dissolved and liquid is mostly evaporated.

I think it's a personal preference how soupy you like this dish, but I cook it until the lentils are mostly dissolved and the mixture is slightly thick.  Eat hot, garnished with cilantro or sliced green onions if desired.  This is good eaten with something like Indian flatbread, flour tortillas, or pita bread to scoop up the lentils.

South Beach Suggestions:
Lentils and other low-glycemic legumes are approved for any phase of the South Beach Diet, but serving sizes are limited to 1/3 to 1/2 cup for phase one.  I'd probably eat this for phase 2 or 3, with some whole wheat or low-carb tortillas or flatbread to scoop up the dal.

More Tasty Dal Variations to Try:
(Recipes from other blogs not always South Beach Diet friendly; check ingredients.)
Bengali Red Dal Curry from Jake from Kalyn's Kitchen
Spiced Vegetable Dal from Andrea Meyers
Dal Makhani, Oberoi Style from A Life (time) of Cooking
Andrha Tomato Dal from Sailu's Kitchen
Basic Yellow Split Pea Dal from Viet World Kitchen
(Want even more recipes? I find these recipes from other blogs using Food Blog Search.) counter customizable free hit

26 comments:

  1. I've always been a little bit afraid of cooking Indian food, too, but with so many great cookbooks on the market, I've been more brave lately. Also, I've stocked up on many spices used in Indian recipes, and it makes a huge difference to have the authentic spices in your pantry. I do love red lentils (in fact, I'm featuring them on Soup Chick next week), especially in soups and stews.

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  2. I try so hard to like lentils. Every few months I add them to the menu.

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  3. I used to be intimidated by Indian food too until I took a few cooking classes from a local Indian woman. Once I collected some of the spices that are common to Indian cooking, it really wasn't hard. I love all kinds of dal - I never used to realize that there were so many different kinds. Just made a chickpea masala today so the kids can enjoy it during the week.

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  4. Lydia, I love some of the Indian dishes you've made! I'm planning to keep experimenting.

    Pam, I love them, but I have a sister-in-law who just doesn't like them at all.

    Jeanette, it would be so fun to take an Indian cooking class! I think the way there are so many similar dishes makes Indian food a little more approachable.

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  5. Hi Kalyn

    It's interesting to see how Indian food gets adapted to suit different tastes. Really enjoyed reading your post.

    I'm guessing it's a personal preference how "soupy" you like the finished dal to be

    You're right, plus there are regional differences. In Andhra, dal is cooked thick. It is mixed with rice and ghee, shaped into small rounds, dipped in pickle and popped into the mouth.

    In Gujarat, dals are sweetened with jaggery.

    In my own kitchen, dal is soupier. Other ingredients that typically go into the "tadka" depending on individual preferences and region - mustard seeds, fenugreek seeds, curry leaves, asafoetida, dried red chillies, garlic, tomatoes...dal is pretty supportive of experimentation!

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  6. Thanks for all those interesting tips about dal and how it varies in different regions. I'm looking forward to more experiments!

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  7. Oh, I love the addition of ginger - I can see how it adds extra warmth and extra oomph :)
    I'm with Lydia here - red lentils are wonderful for soups of any kind (I made some on Friday, with carrots, leeks and tomatoes), but then there's also a place for Puy and black Beluga lentils :)

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  8. Pille, I'm a fan of lentils of any kind!

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  9. I've decided that authenticity is overrated so long as the recipe tastes good...and I can tell just from this list of ingredients and looking at it that it tastes fabulous! I love the ginger infusion.

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  10. Joanne, thanks! I am crazy about ginger in any recipe.

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  11. I'm such a fan of lentils and ginger but am, too, afraid of cooking Indian food. It's silly, I know. I'll bet your house smelled amazing as this was cooking with some many aromatics!

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  12. Kelley, it did smell great! I think we should look for a place in SLC to take Indian cooking classes. Wouldn't that be fun!

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  13. Mmm, the dal look great!
    I've gotten over being tentative regarding Indian dishes. Sometimes the ingredient lists are long or there are ingredients I can't get here but thanks to cookbooks and the web, there is usually a recipe out there that will work. The flavors are just so wonderful, and the kitchen smells great when cooking these dishes!

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  14. I just bought some red lentils two weeks ago and made some red lentil soup with (onion, carrot, celery), cumin, lemon, ancho chile and olive oil. I pureed it for my son who recently had dental surgery. And it turned out to be fabulous.

    I fell in love with how quickly those tiny orange morsels turned tender and how deleicous they were. I am definitely going to make this dal recipe. Thanks Kalyn

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  15. CJ, hope your son is on the mend. I agree, love how quickly the red lentils get done.

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  16. I'm so sad, because my husband doesn't like Indian food. I need to save this for a night when he works late, because it looks fabulous!

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  17. hey Kalyn!

    I'm a reader all the way in India, and got directed to your website a year ago while trying an Indian-vegetarian version of the South Beach Diet.
    This recipe looks lovely and is replicated with most dals/lentils in India. In the south, we add some tamarind for a tangy flavor and some veggies too and call it Sambhar.
    I wanted to delurk and compliment you and the blog.

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  18. Deborah, let me know if you're up in Salt Lake and I'll go have Indian food with you any time!

    Hi Sugar,
    Thanks for delurking and for that nice feedback about the blog all the way from India. And I love tamarind, so your Sambhar sounds fantastic.

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  19. I made this last night and it was absolutely delicious! This is a really great recipe Kalyn, thank you! I have found a lot of other dhal recipes require longer cooking time, but this one definitely fits in a week night dinner.

    Here is another quick Indian meal that I made just last week (from another favourite blogger)
    http://www.notquitenigella.com/2011/09/23/palak-paneer-recipe/
    I am not sure if the paneer would mean that it is not South Beach friendly, but the sauce was so delicious you could easily have it without, or substitute tofu, or maybe even some blobs of cottage cheese.

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  20. Louise, so glad you liked it! I'm not sure how high in fat Paneer is; will have to check on that. Looks like a good recipe!

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  21. I can literally smell these from my computer at work, that's how tasty they look!

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  22. Thanks Becky. They did smell good when they were cooking!

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  23. This sounds delicious. Thanks for sharing.

    I featured this recipe on my weekly What to Cook Wednesday post today. I hope you will stop by and check it out!

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  24. Thanks Shannah! Will take a look.

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  25. Thanks so much! Made this last night. Full of flavor and super simple.

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  26. Kendra, so glad you enjoyed it.1

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