Why must lentils lead such a simplistic existence? I can't deny the comfort of a good bowl of lentil soup or the ease in preparing a cold lentil salad, but I feel like this healthy and inherently delicious legume deserves to have more fun in its life. Enter dhal, a thick lentil stew common in Indian cuisine and perhaps the greatest embodiment of the lentil in dish form.
I first started preparing dhal oddly enough while studying abroad in Florence, Italy my junior year of college. As a vegetarian at the time--quite the sacrilegious decision looking back--I found a lot of the Florentine dinner options to be less than accommodating to my no-meat preference. Guess I shouldn't have picked a host city whose most famous dishes are t-bone steak and tripe sandwiches, but we can't win them all. In desperate need of consistent evening sustenance, I picked up a huge 3# bag of red lentils on a whim during one of my first market runs and, shockingly, was able to make the bag last through the duration of my semester.
Despite much recipe exploration in the lentil realm, Madhur Jaffrey's red split lentils with cabbage remains my favorite to this day. I stumbled upon this specific dish a few year's back on Deb Perelman's blog Smitten Kitchen and it has been a regular fixture in my weeknight dinner rotation ever since. Madhur is considered by most to be the Godmother and one of the leading experts on Indian food in the world, so you can trust that she knows what she's doing. Like many dishes I tend to gravitate towards, this one takes some time to come together, but all of the prep is essentially just cutting, chopping, and occasionally stirring. The yield is also quite large, which makes it ideal for keeping in the refrigerator for a quick, ready made, "you'll never miss the meat" supper.
I like to plate up this particular dhal with a heaping scoop of cucumber scallion raita (Indian yogurt sauce--recipe featured below), lots of freshly chopped cilantro and scallions, and a fluffy piece of naan.
Red Split Lentils with Cabbage (Masoor dal aur band gobi)
Adapted from Smitten Kitchen & Indian Cooking by Madhur Jaffrey
1 1/4 cups red split lentils, washed and drained
5 cups water
1/2 teaspoon turmeric
5 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 teaspoon cumin seeds
2-4 cloves of garlic, peeled and finely chopped
1 medium onion, peeled and cut into thin slices
1/2# cored, finely shredded green cabbage
1 to 2 jalapeños, thinly sliced
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1 medium tomato, seeded and roughly chopped
1/2 teaspoon peeled, finely grated fresh ginger
a handful of cilantro, finely chopped
1 scallion, finely chopped
Put the lentils and water into a heavy pot and bring to a boil. Remove any scum that collects at the top. Add the turmeric and stir to mix. Cover, leaving the lid slightly ajar, turn the heart down to low, and simmer gently for 1 1/4 hours. Stir a few times during the last 30 minutes.
When the lentils cook, heat the oil in another large pot over medium heat. When hot, put in the cumin seeds. Let them sizzle for 3-4 seconds. Add the garlic. As soon as the garlic begins to brown slightly, add in the onion, cabbage, and jalapeño. Stir thoroughly and place the lid on for a 2-3 minutes so the cabbage begins to wilt. Remove the lid and fry for 8-10 minutes or until the mixture begins to turn brown and slightly crisp. Stir in 1/4 teaspoon of the salt. Turn off the heat under the soup pot.
When the lentils have cooked for 1 1/4 hours, add the remaining 1 1/4 teaspoons salt, the tomato, and ginger to the pot. Stir to mix. Cover and cook another 10 minutes. Add the cabbage mixture and any remaining oil in the frying pan. Stir to mix and bring to a simmer.
Simmer uncovered for 2-3 minutes or until the cabbage is heated through. Top with cilantro and scallions.
Cucumber Scallion Raita
1/4 cup finely chopped seedless cucumber
1 thinly sliced scallion
3/4 cup plain whole milk yogurt (not Greek)
1/2 teaspoon salt
Mix and enjoy.