This is mostly for my darling sister, but these are so delicious that everyone should try them.  The recipe is from An Invitation to Indian Cooking by Madhur Jaffrey, which is full of delicious, delicious Delhi-area food that can be made with stuff readily available in the supermarket (for the most part).  My favorite part of the book is the section on Dals, where there are a million variations on spiced legumes.  The basic pattern is always the same though, and the recipes fall into three parts: cook the dal with some seasonings until its tender, then add the delicate stuff, and finally “give a tarka” of whole spices (or onions or ginger or anything, really) toasted briefly in hot oil.

This recipe (for brown lentils like you buy at the supermarket) has you first cook the lentils with cinnamon, bay leaf, garlic, ginger, and turmeric, then add lemon for a little bit, and finally add the tarka of whole cumin seeds.

  • 2 c lentils
  • 1 cinnamon stick, 2-3 in. long
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 5 cloves garlic, peeled
  • 2 slices fresh ginger, 1/8 in. thick and about 1 in. in diameter
  • 1 t ground turmeric
  • 3/4 lemon
  • 1 1/2 t salt
  • 1/8 t freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/4-1/2 t cayenne pepper (depending on how hot you want it)
  • 3 T vegetable oil
  • 1/2 t whole cumin seeds

Wash and drain the lentils. Combine the first six ingredients (lentils to turmeric) in a pot with 6 cups water, and bring to a boil. Lower the heat, cover the pot, and let them simmer until the lentils are tender, about 30 minutes.

Slice the lemon into five or six rounds and remove the seeds. Add the lemon to the pot, along with the salt, pepper, and cayenne. Stir, cover, and allow to simmer for another five minutes or so.

Right before serving, heat the oil in a small skillet over medium-high heat. When the oil is hot, add the cumin seeds and toast them until they just begin to darken (just a couple of seconds). Pour the oil and cumin seeds over the lentils, stir, and enjoy!

Another version that I really like, for red lentils, starts with 2 cups of red lentils, 1/2 t of turmeric, 3 T chopped cilantro, and 2 t salt.  Once the lentils are tender, add some vegetables (on the order of 3 small zucchini), and 4 T tamarind paste and 1/2 t sugar (I substitute some lime juice and a dash of brown sugar for those two ingredients).  When the vegetables are done, give the tarka: 10 whole black peppercorns, 1/2 t whole cumin seeds, 1/2 t black mustard seeds, and 10 fenugreek seeds.  If you like it spicy and can find them, add 10 white urad dal grains and 1-3 whole dried hot red peppers too.


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