Lentil mise

Ingredients for the dal, pictured clockwise: Red lentils, ground turmeric, whole garlic, fresh ginger root, whole cinnamon stick.

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In the spirit of squeezing some vegetable matter into your quarantine diet, I’m sharing one of my all-time favorite pots of goodness. It’s been known to fight off a cold (just ask my husband, who once called it magic), it’s likely to take the edge off those frazzled cooped-up nerves and it takes, start to finish, 40 minutes. If you’ve never had the pleasure, meet the red lentil (aka masoor dal), the salmon-colored pulse that practically self-purees and is a highly efficient flavor picker upper. What that means is that you get to play with whole spices such as cinnamon bark and ginger root.

While the lentils simmer, you can get another skillet going of fried onions scented with cumin seeds. When their savory crisp edges reveal themselves, you can safely bet that the lentils are ready, too. Lay some spinach on top to wilt, followed by those onions, and suddenly, you’ve got flashes of color, varied textures and copious layers of flavor. This, my friends, is not just soup; it’s soup-plus.

A quick video showing how to peel ginger with a teaspoon.

Kitchen notes:

  • Learn to peel ginger with a spoon with our video, seen above. 
  • First time chopping onions into half moons? We’ve got a video for that, too! See below. 
  • Tomatoes are a lovely garnish but not a deal breaker, so don’t fret if you don’t have on hand.
  • No spinach? Try chard instead.
  • Check for whole spices in the bulk section of your market; they are cheaper than buying jars of each spice and you buy only what you need.

RED LENTIL DAL WITH CUMIN-FRIED ONIONS & WILTED SPINACH

Makes 6 servings.

Excerpted from “The Meat Lover’s Meatless Cookbook” by Kim O’Donnel.

Ingredients:

  • 2 cups dried red lentils, rinsed
  • 6 cups water
  • 1 (1 x 1-inch) hunk fresh ginger, peeled but left whole
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground turmeric
  • 1 clove garlic, peeled but left whole
  • 1 cinnamon stick 
  • 1/2 bunch spinach (about 2 cups), washed thoroughly, stemmed, dried, and chopped coarsely
  • 1 1/4 teaspoons salt
  • 3 tablespoons neutral oil
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons cumin seeds
  • 1 medium yellow onion, sliced into half and then into half-moons
  • 1/4 teaspoon cayenne
  • 1 dozen cherry or equally small tomatoes, halved lengthwise (best when in season)
  • A squeeze of 1/2 lemon (optional)

Directions:

Place the rinsed lentils in a heavy-bottomed pot and add water. (It will cover the lentils, plus a little extra.) Add the ginger, turmeric, whole garlic clove and the cinnamon stick.

Bring to a lively simmer, then lower the heat, cover, and cook the lentils at a gentle simmer until tender, about 20 minutes. Remove the ginger, garlic, and cinnamon stick. If the lentils have not pureed on their own to your liking, run a whisk through the pot a few times and, within seconds, they will be completely pureed. Add the salt, taste, then add more as needed.

Add the spinach, give it a quick stir, and return the cover to the pot. The spinach will wilt quickly.

Meanwhile, in a 9- or 10-inch skillet, heat the oil over medium heat and add the cumin seeds. Cook briefly (15 seconds), then add the onions. Cook over medium heat, allowing the onions to brown at the edges, 12 to 15 minutes. Add the cayenne and tomatoes (if using), stir to coat, and taste for salt, adding if you feel the need.

Transfer the fried onion mixture to the dal, stir, and serve. If using, squeeze the lemon over the dish as a last-minute flavor spritz.


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