Click HERE to watch this video on Vimeo.
The Boss’s mom and my mom are from a city in India where lentil dishes are a specialty to that region of the country, and both The Boss and I grew up on this stuff. There are at least a hundred different ways to cook lentils, but recently, I asked MIL to share one of her lentil recipes (that I love) with me. We were at my in-laws’ place a few weeks ago when MIL and I rolled up our sleeves, and got cooking. MIL let me do all the hands-on stuff since I learn better that way, but she stayed close to talk me through each step. Internet, get a pen and paper and try this today!
What you’ll need:
This recipe makes about four servings, and ingredients are based on 1 cup of lentils. Tweak this recipe if you’re making more.
-1 cup Masoor daal. “Daal” is the Hindi/Urdu word for lentil, and you can pick this stuff up at your local Indian or Pakistani market.
- 1 tsp. turmeric. Whenever I buy international foods/spices I always find spelling and grammar mistakes and laugh. But the irony here is in how I chuckled at TUMERIC, but then read it that way in the video. Good one, UNIVERSE! An extra note of caution: Be careful with this stuff, it WILL STAIN! anything it touches: your skin, your countertops, your clothes, your cat.
- 1 tbsp. ginger-garlic paste. You can pick this up from your local all-inclusive Asian grocery store — it’s a common ingredient in Chinese cooking as well. If you don’t have many international grocery options where you live, call your local health foods store, or organic grocery store and ask if they stock this item.
- Water. You need about 2 and 1/2 (two and a half) cups per every one cup of lentils. So if you make TWO cups of lentils, you’ll need FIVE cups of water. LOOK DAD! I’M DOING MATH! You may find that you need to add more water as you cook, which you can do based on how thick/soupy you want the dish.
- 1 tsp. salt. You can taste for salt during the cooking process and add more if you like. But start with less!
- 1 tsp. chili powder, or to taste. (Optional, but I love it!)
- A handful of small green chilies. (Optional but recommended)
- Half a bundle of cilantro (optional but recommended). You’ll need about a fistful chopped for the soup, and about a tablespoon for each serving once plated.
What to do:
Grab a medium-sized sauce pot, and put it over medium-high heat. Dump the lentils into a separate bowl, and wash them REALLY well — they’re covered in dirt! I wash the lentils with lukewarm water, but you can rinse them with cold water if you like. Rinse them until the water runs clear, or almost clear. Depending on your specific bag or lentils, this could be anywhere from three to 10 rinses! You don’t have to scrub the lentils as you wash, just gently stir them around with your fingers. When they look clean, or clean enough (hey, I ate Elmer’s Paste as a kid, my standards aren’t that high) drain as much water as you can, and put the lentils into the sauce pan. Give them a quick stir so they don’t stick, and add water.
Next, get your spices in there! Add the tuRmeric, ginger-garlic paste, salt and chili powder (if you’re using it). Give it a nice stir, and let everything come to a boil. In the mean time, THOROUGHLY wash the cilantro. You can give this a good scrub unlike the lentils that you want to handle a little more gently. Pat the cilantro dry with a kitchen/tea towel (or a paper towel if you’d like to DESTROY THE ENVIRONMENT…what plastic bags? Eh..heh?) and then give it a good chop. Not too fine, but not too coarse.
Now, check on your soup. When it comes to a boil, give it another gentle stir, and then check for salt, spice (if you used chili powder) and water/texture. If you find that the water has evaporated too quickly, you can add more. The more water you add, the soupier your dish will turn out, and the more you let the water evaporate, the more textured your lentils will be. I like my finished product to have enough texture so that I can eat it with bread, but not so much that it looses its soupy-ness. If you want your soup thicker, you can add less water, but be careful not to undercook the lentils. Let the soup cook on medium-high heat for another five or so minutes, and then bring it down to just above a simmer, cover, and let cook.
Indian food, though fairly easy to make, can be time consuming because there’s a lot of “let it cook” involved. Indian food calls for such strong spices that the slower cooking allows those dominant flavors to even out. Your soup could technically be ready to eat in less than 20 minutes, but chances are the ginger-garlic and turmeric would be so overpowering it wouldn’t be a meal you’d like to have again. But the good thing about slow cooking is that you don’t have to hover over your dish. You can do other things around the house like, play Angry Birds, check your e-mail, or take a shower. I mean, don’t like, go get a haircut, but feel free to read a book. Obviously, you should use your own discretion based on what else you have going on in the kitchen at the time.
Next, find something to eat your soup with. You can always eat the soup by itself, but I like to eat mine with bread. I prefer to make our bread at home, but you can eat it with store-bought pita, or french bread, or even a little bit of rice if you like. Once you find/warm up something to eat with your soup, go back to the soup, and add a fistful of chopped cilantro, and some green chilies to the pot, and give it a little stir. Check the water level (add more if you like) cover the pot again, and let it cook on low for another 20 minutes. If you’re feeling anxious about how long you’re actually supposed to let the soup cook for, feel free to taste it every 10-ish minutes to see how the flavor distribution and texture is. If you like it, and the lentils are soft and cooked, then you’re ready to eat! You don’t have to keep it on the stove for as long as I did, or MIL does, which is usually 30 to 35 minutes of slow cooking after it comes to a boil. When you feel like the soup is ready, put it in a bowl, garnish with some of the remaining cilantro, and enjoy!
Optional: Adding the “Bhagaar”
So, I considered not adding this part to the post because I NEVER add this to our food at home. Well, okay, not never. I’ve done it like, twice in the two and a half years I’ve been cooking. But if I didn’t add this option to the recipe, I’d probably get a call from my mom and Little BFF’s mom saying that I was going to be banished from the Indian race. FOREVER! We take our food seriously.
Bhagaar is made a few different ways (depending on the dish and the cook!) and used as a base or garnish for many dishes, but most often for lentil dishes. It’s used for flavor, aroma, and as a preservative, but in my mind, bhagaar adds extra oil and calories to a naturally healthy, flavorful and nutritious dish, and I don’t want that nonsense in my body. No, I don’t have a problem eating an entire box of donuts, but I do have a problem eating an extra tablespoon of Canola oil. WHAT’S YOUR POINT?
I will say that adding bhagaar to the finished dish does give your food a more authentic Indian flavor, so go ahead and try it if you want. It’s always nice to try something new once, and you can decide for yourself where you stand on bhagaar moving forward. Did this just turn into an Ask Sabrina column?
What you need:
(Again, this is based on the serving we used above — 1 cup of lentils.)
- 1 small onion (smaller than a tennis ball, but bigger than a ping pong ball)
- 3 tbsp. Canola oil
- A smidgen of butter, maybe 1/4 of an inch thick (optional). Note: The butter might add a slightly sweet taste to your soup.
What do do:
Heat the oil on medium-high heat in a very small sauce pan. Finely chop your onion, and add to your pot when the oil is hot. Give the onions a nice stir, and when they start to turn golden brown, add the butter (if you’re using it) and let it melt. Make sure your onions are a nice brown-ish color before you take it off the pot. Add the bhagaar to the pot with all the soup in it, and NOT to individual servings. Garnish with a little more cilantro.
Note: Bhagaar can also be made using dry chilies, garlic, cumin seeds, and a number of other things depending on what you’re cooking. If you want to try the bhagaar, but don’t want to use Canola oil, you can always substitute the Canola for Olive or Grape seed oil, though that will change the flavor slightly.