Masoor dal is one of my favorite comfort dishes. It doesn't contain a pint of cream, nor is it loaded with a stick of butter, as my variation uses significantly less oil than the original recipe. What makes it a good comfort food is the rich flavor from the spices and the heartiness from the lentils. It's easy to put together and doesn't weigh heavily in the stomach. I like to serve it with rice, but today I served it with cornbread. You could even serve it with pasta because it's pretty versatile.
Garam masala, a traditional Indian spice mix, is what you're supposed to use, though I subbed Chinese 5-spice because that's what I have in the spice cabinet. There are a few similar spices used, but overall it's different. It's still imparts a spicy, smoky flavor, which is the important part. I did have ground coriander, an ingredient in garam masala, so I added some of that along with turmeric for color, like the recipe says to do.
The spices work to flavor the dish in two ways. First, half the spices are added to the lentils as they cook. The remaining spices are sauteed with onions. These spices are fat soluble, meaning the flavor is released the most when they come in contact with fat.
To begin, rinse 2 cups of black lentils. Add to boiling water and simmer until halfway cooked. The spices and salt are then added and the lentils continue to cook until soft. You're looking for a texture similar to thick cream, as the recipe states. This doesn't mean you want to cook the lentils to a mush. The lentils need to be combined with just enough water to maintain a loose texture without being too soupy. Additional hot water is added throughout the cooking period if needed to maintain consistency.
This was my first time making masoor dal with black lentils instead of green lentils. I liked it because the black lentils hold their shape better and have a heartier texture. It works with any type of lentil that retains their shape when cooked, so there's no need to buy a specific type.
If your lentils are cooked and there is still too much water, as pictured above, simmer gently, uncovered, to let the excess water evaporate.
The additional ingredients are onions, garlic, ginger, and pureed tomatoes. You're supposed to use jalapenos and cilantro, but I didn't have any. Luckily, the canned, diced tomatoes I used were Mexican-style and contained green chiles, so I got some heat that way. Make sure you puree the tomatoes because it contributes to the texture of the sauce, whereas leaving them diced would make it chunkier and less saucy.
Saute the onions in two tablespoons of olive oil over medium heat. Saute until tender and translucent, taking care not to let them brown.
The garlic, ginger, and chiles, if you have them. Right now, it's smelling pretty great. Continue to saute the mixture until onions are deep yellow. Now, the rest of the spices and salt are mixed in and fried until the spices "stick".
When the spices soak up the moisture are sticking to the skillet, the pureed tomatoes and cilantro are poured in to release the spice fond. I cook this mixture for 3-5 minutes to heat the tomatoes and reduce them slightly.
Add the cooked lentils and stir to combine with the sauce. Taste and adjust the seasonings if necessary.
That's all it takes to get of Indian lentils for dinner. This meal is full of protein, and the flavors taste even better the next day. I often eat a bowl of lentils for breakfast because it's so good. I'll be making this recipe often throughout wintertime.
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Recipe modified from Indian Food Forever
2 cups black or green lentils
2 1/2 teaspoons garam masala or Chinese 5 spice powder
1 1/2 teaspoons ground coriander
1 1/2 teaspoons turmeric
1 1/2 tsp salt
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 large onion, chopped finely
5 cloves garlic, minced
1 (1-inch piece) ginger root, chopped finely
2 jalapeno chiles, chopped (seeded if you want it less spicy)
1 14 ounce can diced tomatoes, pureed
1 bunch coriander, chopped
- In a 3 quart pot, bring 4 cups water to a boil. Rinse lentils thoroughly. Add them to boiling water. Stir, and reduce heat to maintain a continuous simmer.
- Cook the lentils for 15 minutes. Add 1/2 teaspoon garam masala or Chinese 5 spice, 1/2 coriander, 1/2 teaspoon turmeric, and 1 teaspoon salt. As lentils cook, uncovered, water will evaporate and mixture will thicken. Add more water to keep dal loose, like texture of thick cream. When dal is soft (an additional 10-15 minutes), turn off heat.
- Heat oil in a large skillet over medium heat. When oil is very hot, add onions and cook until tender and translucent but not browned.
- Add garlic, ginger and chiles. Continue to fry until onions are deep-yellow. Add remaining spices and salt. Do not allow spices to burn. Keep stirring until mixtures starts to stick to skillet.
- Add tomatoes and cilantro. Cook until tomato softens and thickens slightly, about 3-5 minutes. Pour in pot of lentils and simmer to blend flavors. Taste and add more salt if needed.