This is a really fun, really yummy dish with fantastic Indian flavors, and it’s quite simple. This recipe is inspired by Madhur Jaffrey’s World Vegetarian, except I’ve added a lot less oil. She puts loads of zucchini in hers, and while I love that version (a similar one is in my Farmers’ Market cookbook) I’ve found that you can make this soup without the zucchini, and then add any random cooked vegetable to a bowl of this soup afterwards. In the winter, I love to thaw out bags of last summer’s frozen cauliflower or broccoli. You can use any kind of vegetable you like; just pre-cook it (steam, blanch, roast… however you feel like cooking your veggie, or whatever you happen to have leftover),and add it at the last minute before serving, in the middle of a lake of lentils in a bowl. Or you can just use the dal plain, as a side dish to another vegetable dish! This recipe is perfect with the spicy Indian cabbage & potatoes. If you add a vegetable to the soup, you can serve it for a fancy dinner with the carrot & mint salad with currants and some brown basmati rice.
I always make a double batch and freeze the extra for later. It’s great the first day, but even better the second!
2 cups red lentils, washed and drained
½ teaspoon turmeric
sea salt or kosher salt
1-2 tablespoons canola or olive oil
a pinch of cardamom seeds, pounded just to break them up a bit (or use ground cardamom, but don’t add it until you add the onion to the skillet)
1 (3”) cinnamon stick
4 bay leaves
1 teaspoon whole cumin seeds
2 medium onions, finely chopped
4 teaspoons peeled fresh ginger root, minced finely or grated to a pulp
6 garlic cloves, minced
freshly ground black pepper
1/8 teaspoon cayenne (or more, if you like things spicy)
1. Put the lentils and 5 cups of water in a heavy-bottomed pot and bring to a boil. When it boils, remove the foam that rises to the top. Add the turmeric and stir it in. Cover, leaving the lid slightly ajar, and cook very gently for 30 to 50 minutes until the lentils are tender. Add 2 teaspoons of salt and stir to combine.
2. Meanwhile, heat the oil over medium high heat in a nonstick frying pan. When very hot, add the cardamom, cinnamon, bay leaves, and whole cumin seeds. Stir for a few seconds until the cumin is fragrant and then add the onion and ½ teaspoon of salt. Stir and fry until the onions are golden brown.
3. Add the ginger and garlic, black pepper to taste, and cayenne, and stir and fry for another minute. Stir in a ¼ cup of water or so to deglaze the pan, and then add the contents of the frying pan to the lentils. Stir gently to combine and cook on low heat for a minute or two until the flavors are combined.
4. Season with salt to taste. Serve as a side dish in a small bowl, or put some in the bottom of a large bowl and pile a bunch of cooked vegetables in the middle.