Saturday, January 03, 2009

Red Lentil Dal

Oh, dear. If I am really going to stick to my New Year's Resolution, then some adaptations are going to need to be made to the other ways in which I live my life. By Day Two of this little experiment, my pants felt a little snug and it occured to me that maybe I should have first tried to recover from the holiday excesses before embarking on a year-long quest to increase my dark chocolate intake.

Just as with Thanksgiving, I finished out the week of Christmas with a profound (though always short-lived) disdain of, but not limited to, the following: anything in a casserole dish, cookies of all kinds, pecan desserts in any form, vegetables that can be swallowed without first being chewed, and substances that can be slurped from a spoon.

In the weeks leading up to Christmas, I baked my way through at least six pounds of butter, more than one five pound bag of sugar, three or four pounds of pecans, and what felt like a bushel of sweet potatoes. I don't mean to sound dissatisfied. I love the holidays. Spoiling the kids rotten was an immense amount of fun this year, and though I was exhausted by the time it was all said and done, I enjoyed every minute (and every bite) of the laughter and food shared with family and friends.

But it is high time to get back to normal (even if 'normal' does include a daily dose of chocolate for the next 365 days). So I'm ramping up the exercise and taking a good, hard look at our menu to see how healthfully we can eat for the next month or so while we hibernate in our lounge clothes and turn into unsociable trolls during the cold days of January. And, since it is winter, and the variety of fresh, local vegetables is limited, that means a lot of beans.

I say that in a much more positive manner than it might initially sound. We like beans. Kind of a lot, actually. As a matter of fact, Little Miss Piggy would be perfectly content to eat beans for every meal, including a handful of garbanzos for a snack. Come to think of it though, between the soymilk we pour over our granola, the chickpeas I tuck into salads, the black beans we load into our quesadillas and chili, and the silken tofu I have used in cheesecake, there have been entire days when we HAVE had beans for every meal.

Such is the life of a vegetarian and the family who depends on her for sustenance.

We started the year off right, of course (even beyond The Daily Chocolate), happily gorging on Black-Eyed Peas and Collard Greens for our traditional New Year's Day meal, and since we had half a skillet of cornbread left over, The Carnivore requested lentils for dinner the following night. And oh, did I ever oblige.

Lentils are fun to cook anyhow, because there is no pesky soaking time and thus no advance planning involved. And, well, I like the pretty colors they come in, though the red ones are my hands-down favorites. Our current favorite lentil recipe is one that I clipped from an issue of Cooking Light a year or so back, and which includes charred onions (be still, my beating heart) and a heady combination of spices that warms both the tummy and the soul. It is a relatively easy recipe, though the flavors are nicely layered, and makes a delicous vegetarian entree when served over brown rice.

As for the desire for healthful foods right now, this meal is spot-on: high in fiber and protein, low in calories, and chock full of vitamins and minerals. It is so good for you, in fact, that it nearly cancels out the batch of Dark Chocolate and Coffee Liqueur Truffles that I am putting the final layer on right now...


RED LENTIL DAL WITH CHARRED ONIONS (adapted from Cooking Light, serves 6)
Serve over brown rice for a vegetarian entree
  • 3 tsp olive oil, divided
  • 1 onion, cut into 1/4-inch thick slices
  • 1 tsp mustard seeds
  • 1/2 tsp coriander seeds
  • 1 whole clove
  • 1 small red chili pepper, chopped
  • 1/2 tsp cumin
  • 1/4 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1/8 tsp ground cardamom
  • 1 Tbs minced peeled fresh ginger
  • 1 garlic clove, minced
  • 4 cups vegetable broth
  • 1 cup dried small red lentils
  • 1 can diced tomatoes (do not drain)
  • 1/4 cup chopped cilantro
  • 1 Tbs fresh lime juice
  • salt
  1. Heat 1 tsp olive oil in a large heavy skillet over medium-high heat. Add onion to skillet and cook for a few minutes, until blackened and charred. Carefully turn onion slices over and char on the other side. Remove from heat, coarsely chop, and set aside.
  2. In a small metal skillet, toast the mustard seeds, coriander seeds and clove over medium heat for a minute or two, stirring frequently, until fragrant.
  3. Remove seeds and clove from skillet and set aside.
  4. To the small skillet, add the chopped chili pepper and cook for a minute or two, stirring frequently, until charred and dried out a little.
  5. In a coffee grinder (or spice grinder), combine the mustard seed mixture, the chili pepper, cumin, cinnamon and cardamom. Pulse into finely ground.
  6. Heat remaining 2 tsp oil in small Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Add ginger and garlic to pan; saute for 1 minute. Stir in spices and saute for 1 minute more.
  7. Add broth, lentils and tomatoes to pan; bring to a boil. Cover, reduce heat and simmer for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally.
  8. Uncover the pan; add onion, and cook for 10 more minutes.
  9. Turn the heat off. Stir in the cilantro and the lime juice. Add salt to taste.


Cindy said...

"we hibernate in our lounge clothes" - nice words for pjs

Mama JJ said...

We are thinking along the same lines---I just posted about lentils, too! It must be the time of year...


Anonymous said...

I love lentils, but if I don't soak them first, they crunch unless I cook them for 60 minutes or more.


Sarah Beam said...

Nysha, you won't have that problem with this recipe, at least. I have made it countless times now without any problems.

Anonymous said...

I see chili pepper in this - is it spicy at all? It's always hard for me to guess from a recipe. I have one child who cannot tolerate spiciness in her food. Once we try something that is too spicy for her I can adapt it the next time, but I'd like to avoid that uncomfortable first time when she ends up scrounging for something else to eat.

Sarah Beam said...

Elizabeth, it is only moderately spicy, and the spiciness is more of an Indian heat than a Mexican heat, if that makes any sense at all. And as always with hot peppers, if you scrape out and discard the seeds, almost all of the tongue-burning heat is eliminated. When in doubt though, it may be best to skip the pepper the first time through to see how the kids like it. The other herbs and spices have a delightful warming quality that makes this a very soothing meal.

Anonymous said...

Sarah - thanks for responding! I'll give it a try tonight without the chili pepper.