Lentils, Lentils Everywhere!

Since we are on the topic of lentils and I finally posted our dhal recipe, I thought I’d share some of my recent “lentil” experiments.  Our little one is such a big fan and they are so good for you, why not try some new/unique twists on the humble lentil?

Of late, I am taking a page from Mark Bittman’s strategy and trying to eat vegan once a week. Mark is in the business of eating good food (lucky guy!) and I can imagine that it can take a toll on your health and waistline. Risks notwithstanding, I would kill for his job and skill as a writer. Mark decided to go “vegan before dinner time everyday”, to get his health and weight back on track.  What that means is from the time he wakes up until dinner, he eats only fruits, vegetables, whole grains and legumes.  And then starting at dinner, he eats like his job and passions require him to.  Within a few months, he lost 35 pounds, and his health issues (blood sugar levels, cholesterol and sleep apnea) largely resolved themselves.  Sounds like something I could actually do and far better than all those fad diets floating around.

My plan is a partial adoption of Mark’s.  Just to give my system a weekly break. I have noticed that when I eat vegan for a few days and avoid gluten and processed food, my skin actually looks and feels better.  Forget weight loss, glowing skin is worth a whole lot more! 🙂

Curried Lentils with Paneer/Tofu adapted from Sunset Magazine

Serves 4

You can find cooked lentils at Trader Joe’s. The Indian mama in me could not buy the pre-cooked lentils, though I am told, the Trader Joe’s stuff works well.  You can find paneer–a fresh Indian cheese that’s pressed until firm–at well-stocked grocery stores or Indian markets.  Tofu works just as well and is a healthier option.  A good dish to bring to a potluck with some basmati rice and perhaps, our current top favorite, some carrot raita.

Ingredients

  • 3 tablespoons olive oil, divided
  • 1/2 teaspoon curry powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 4 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 large carrot, shredded
  • 1 cup frozen peas
  • 2 cups cooked lentils
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 8 ounces paneer or extra-firm tofu, cut into cubes (I cubed and fried this separately.  Used tofu to keep the dish vegan)
Method
  1. Heat 1 tbsp. oil in a large frying pan over medium-high heat.
  2. Add spices and toast until fragrant, about 1 minute.
  3. Add onion and garlic and cook until beginning to soften, about 2 minutes.
  4. Add carrot, peas, lentils, salt, and remaining 2 tbsp. oil, stirring to combine. Stir in paneer and cook 2 minutes.

Lentil Salad

This recipe is from my friend Lena’s blog, A Happier Meal and I made it for a July 4th family reunion.  Lena’s blog has a bunch of other lentil recipes which you should check out.

Serves 4-6

Mix 2-2.5 cups of cooked lentils (french or beluga lentils would be best here, or a mix) with 1-2 cups of mixed chopped vegetables. In my version, I used zuchinni, peppers and red onions roasted in the oven.

According to Lena, English or sugar snap peas would also be perfect additions (for a more spring feel), as would fresh corn, cucumber, bell peppers, etc. Add a combination of chopped herbs you have some on hand: parsley, cilantro, mint and tarragon would be great choices.  Toss with lemon juice or your favorite vinegar, olive oil, salt, and pepper. If desired, add crumbled goat cheese, feta or Mexican cotija cheese.  Obviously, cheeses should be omitted for a vegan dish.

Please do share some of your favorite lentil recipes below, we’d love to give them a try.

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A Staple at Our House: Dhal & Rice

Dahl with some tasty homemade Indian pickles.

It’s hard to believe that we have been writing this blog for almost two years and I have yet to post a dahl recipe.  After we introduced the requisite (disgusting) rice cereal and mashed vegetables to (baby) Ria, dahl has been a staple food for her from the get go.  It is the prefect baby food and you can spice it as you like to suit your family’s needs.

Dhal is a dish of pulses (dried lentils, peas or beans) and is an integral part of the cuisine in South Asia.  These pulses are cooked into a stew/soup and are usually served with other dishes and eaten with either Indian flatbreads and/or rice.  For the vegetarians in South Asia, dahl is a tremendous source of protein.

It never ceases to amaze me how much Ria loves this dish – she could eat it almost every day.  What is funny is that almost every other Indian child I know, including myself, growing up was not a fan of dhal.  We were forced to eat it for almost every meal and for many of us it was the bane of our existence.  I have finally overcome my dhal phobia (though there are still certain types, I don’t quite eat) and I am glad Ria does not give me the trouble I used to give my mother when served dhal for dinner.  In fact, Ria goes around telling people “dhal-chawal” (rice & lentils) is her favorite and most people just look at her quizzically because they either don’t know what it is and if they do, they are befuddled that it could be a child’s favorite.

The recipe below is my mother’s and applicable to almost any type of lentil you have.  The tempering of the spices and onions in the hot oil and ghee is the quintessential way of cooking a dhal and I love pouring the hot oil into the dhal and watching the “dramatic” sizzle.  This dish practically cooks itself (set it the lentils to cook with spices and walk away) and is very forgiving.  If I am out of onions for the tempering or feeling lazy (to chop an onion), I just leave them out.  The addition of fennel is not typical but an adjustment my mother has made, so if you don’t have it, you can omit it.  A good one for the slow cooker, but use just 3 cups of water if going the slow cooker route.  You can also add some vegetables (mixed vegetables, chopped spinach) towards the end of the the cooking time for the lentils and make a one pot complete meal.

Channa Dhal

Serves 2 adults and 2 kids

Ingredients

  • 1 cup channa dhal or yellow split peas
  • 4 cups water
  • 1 tomato chopped
  • 1 teaspoon fennel powder
  • ½ teaspoon coriander powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon tumeric powder
  • ¼ teaspoon chilli powder (to taste or omit)
  • salt to taste (add after boiling)

For tempering:

  • 1-2 tablespoons ghee, olive oil, canola oil or a mixture (100% ghee is the best)
  • 1 tablespoon cumin seeds
  • 1 medium onion or 3 shallots, chopped

Method

1.    In a saucepan add first 7 ingredients and bring to a boil.  Simmer covered for 45-50 minutes till yellow split peas are soft
2.    Mash about 1/3 of the yellow split peas using the back of a big spoon.  Season to taste
3.    Heat 2 tbsp oil in a heavy bottomed skillet and add diced onion and salt to taste
4.    Fry onions till light brown for about 7 – 9 minutes
5.    Add the cumin seeds and fry for another minute
6.    Add cumin and onion mixture to dhal and simmer for 5 minutes.  Check for seasoning and add salt if needed.

Not the best photo in the world but this is how Ria eats her dhal and rice – sometimes with spinach and other random (pinto beans in this case) leftovers mixed in.  It’s often a hodge-podge and rather unattractive, but she loves it.  The yoghurt helps to mellow out the spices.