Sunday, October 29, 2006

Masala Dal

Remember my trek with Jessica down to Devon Street to find Amchoor for Barbara's Spice is Right event at Tigers & Strawberries? Remember how I bought two 4-pound bags each of red and yellow lentils? Remember how I wondered what the hell I was thinking?

My friend Bob came through for me and graciously accepted half of each of them. In return, I promised to send him some recipes, which I have not yet done. Sorry, Bob! I'll get them to you soon. In the meantime, here's a great recipe for the yellow lentils.

While I have several recipes for the red lentils and I absolutely love them, I was at a little bit of a loss as to what to do with the yellow lentils. In all honesty, I wasn't absolutely sure they weren't just yellow split peas. They're bigger and rounder than most of the other varieties of lentils I've been using, so I wasn't sure how those recipes would translate. I decided to look around for recipes that actually called for yellow lentils.

And found a few at my new favorite recipe site In addition, they had an information page link, so I found out that most yellow lentils that are exported have a wax coating to help preserve them, so I knew to soak them in hot water for half an hour before using them, and to rinse off the soak water. I had recently read that you should use the soak water when cooking beans because a lot of the nutrients leach out in the soaking process, so if I hadn't read about the wax I probably would have used the soaking water.

So what to do with my yellow lentils? I found a yellow lentil soup recipe that sounds heavenly, with coconut and lime juice, served with a cilantro chutney that I will definitely have to make soon. But that was a little more ambitious than I was feeling, so I opted for Masala Dal, or Spicy Yellow Lentils. Thanks to all of my experimenting with spices and Indian recipes, I had pretty much everything I needed on hand, including my own toasted and blended garam masala. Everything tastes so much better with home-toasted home-ground spices.

While the lentils were soaking in hot water, I prepped the other ingredients. After the lentils had soaked, I drained and rinsed them, put them into a 3-quart saucepan, brought them to a boil, then simmered them until tender, about half an hour. I waited until the lentils were tender before I started the next part of the process, but that turned out not to be necessary. You can definitely start cooking everything else at the same time the lentils are cooking.

After heating my 10" skillet, I added 2 tablespoons of oil and let that get really hot. Then I added the black mustard seeds, and after they started crackling and popping I added the cumin and asafoetida and just gave it a quick stir or two before adding the onion.
I cooked the onion for about 7 minutes before adding the garlic and ginger. The ginger at the grocery store was withered and soft, so I just used ground ginger instead. After letting that cook for about 3 more minutes, I added the rest of the spices. It looked so pretty I decided to take a picture before adding the tomatoes. You can see how the spices have started to collect on the bottom of the pan. The liquid from the tomatoes will pick up all of that flavor. This hasn't been a good year for tomatoes, and we're pretty much done with the season anyway, so I just used a 14.5-oz. can of diced tomatoes with their juice.
Doesn't this look divine? I have to tell you it was smelling pretty divine at the time. I let it cook for a while, but it never really got to the consistency of paste, like the recipe said it should. I didn't worry too much about it, though, because I knew it would taste good and I've long given up the idea of trying to cook any cuisine, but especially Indian cuisine, authentically. I just try to stay as true as I can to the general idea.

This is as close to a paste as I got, then I couldn't wait any more. The lentils were starting to soak up all the water and I was afraid to let them sit any longer, so that was the determining factor for how long I let the paste cook down.
There was just the right blend of paste and lentils. Unlike the red lentils or split peas, these lentils hold their shape. I couldn't wait to serve some up and try it.

The results were spectacular. There are so many flavors going on in this dish that's it's hard to describe. The lentils have a nutty taste that is perfectly complemented by the sweetness of the onions, and all of the spices come together so there's no one overpowering flavor, just multiple layers of flavor that rose and fell in perfect harmony.

I will find and use more recipes using yellow lentils, but I'll be surprised if I find anything better than this one.
Home Cookin 4.9 Chapter: Beans and Vegetables

Spicy Yellow Lentils (Masala Dal)

Some of the masurements were given in millimeters and grams. I converted them as best I could.

1/2 lb. yellow lentils soaked for 30 minutes
3 cups water
4 Tbsp sunflower oil
1 tsp black mustard seeds
1 tsp cumin seeds
Large pinch asaefetida
1 large onion, chopped
1 tsp ginger, shredded
1 tsp garlic, shredded
1/4 lb. tomatoes chopped
1 tsp turmeric powder
1 tsp chilli powder
1 tsp garam masala powder
2 Tbsp coriander leaves, chopped

Bring lentils to a boil and simmer until very soft.

Heat the oil in a pan and add the mustard seeds. When they crackle add the cumin and asafoetida. Stir a few times and add the onion. Fry until golden then add the ginger and garlic. Add all the other ingredients and cook until a thick paste is formed.

Pour in the lentils, add salt and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer for 5 minutes.

Serve very hot. Goes with rice and combines the sweetness of onions with the nuttiness of the lentils

Servings: 4

(Slightly adapted from a recipe on


misreall said...

Ok, I am not going to have a working stove for another week or so, meaning you have to make that for me.
You can use some of Bob's lentils, he won't mind.

dejamo said...

Silly misreall. I still have plenty of yellow lentils left to make some for you.

That sucks about the stove. Hope the move has gone well otherwise (and assume that's why you don't have a working stove?).

I keep meaning to call you but the days keep slipping by . . .

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