Growing up Catholic, lentils were standard in my house every Lenten season. Now, as an adult, I eat them year-round but more frequently during the colder months in hearty soups and other comforting dishes. Although some of you may be scrunching your nose about now, don’t. They make for good eating. Yes, lentils prepared inadequately can be boring and flavorless – perhaps why they get associated with deprivation. But, spiced right, they are oh so scrumptious and uber healthy.
For inspiration on cooking lentils, I look toward India, Pakistan and other countries in the Indian subcontinent, where lentils are integral to diet and dal.
Simply speaking, a dal (also spelled dahl, daal or daahl depending on the specific region) is a stew made from legumes such as lentils and is typically seasoned with turmeric, ginger, and other spices. It is enjoyed with roti (flatbread), fragrant basmati rice, and vegetables.
Traditional dal requires making lentils from scratch. Even though they cook relatively fast compared to other legumes, we’re keeping it simple. Pre-made lentils and a handful of other ingredients (that are likely in your pantry) are all that is needed. This easy recipe is a healthy go-to-meal for those nights when you want something home-made but don’t want to spend hours in the kitchen. It takes about 15 minutes to prepare.
Try this dish as an alternative for a Lenten Friday meal or, if you’re like me, anytime.
Tidbits on Lentils:
- Lentils are believed to have originated from Eastern Turkey and Northern Syria and are thought to be one of the first crops cultivated by man. They have been a food source for over 8000 years, although wild lentils, dating back 11,000 years, have also been found in a Greek cave.
- There are at least 50 cultivated varieties of lentils that come in various forms (split versus whole), various sizes, and an array of colors including yellow, red, green, brown and black.
- Lentils are often considered a good substitute for meat and have gained popularity as a Lenten food. These legumes are a good source of lean protein. They are a complete protein paired with grains, nuts, seeds, eggs and dairy products.
Make this recipe your own! Add more/different spices and ingredients liked cooked chicken, cauliflower and peas.
I made the green lentils from scratch this time, which added another 45 minutes to the cooking time. However, I have also used canned lentil soup as a successful substitute.
1 tablespoon oil or butter
1/2 cup onion, diced
1 large carrot, diced small
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 teaspoons curry powder*
1 teaspoon cumin powder, optional
2 cups water or vegetable/chicken stock
2 tablespoons tomato paste
2 (15 oz.) cans lentils with juice or 4 cups – precooked lentils with juice (1 pound dried lentils)
2 handfuls fresh spinach, rough chopped, or 1 small box frozen spinach, defrosted and drained
Cilantro, garnish, optional
*Curry powder is a blend of spices that typically contains turmeric, cumin, coriander, and fenugreek among others spices. Not all curry powders contain the same ingredients, so adjust accordingly.
- In a medium-size saucepan or deep skillet, heat oil and sauté onion and carrots for 2 – 3 minutes. Add garlic, sauté careful not to burn; then add curry powder, cumin, sautéing quickly. Add water/stock and tomato paste. Mix well. Add lentils. Bring to a boil and simmer for at least 10 minutes over medium heat. Add, spinach until it wilts and heated throughout. Adjust spices.
- Serve hot as is or use a hand emulsifier/blender to blend some lentils and create a creamier dal. Great with basmati rice or topped cilantro and a dollop of yogurt/raita.
Spices: Cumin, turmeric, ginger, cayenne, fresh cilantro, chiles
Greens: Sautéed kale, purslane
Protein: Diced chicken, yogurt