With the end of daylight savings time, the early darkness creates a new sense of urgency about getting dinner on the table in the evening. This lentil dish from Neelam Batra's 1,000 Indian Recipes cooks up in a matter of minutes after you enter the house, as long as you remembered to rinse and soak a cup of red lentils in the morning. I used Camas Country Mill's red chief lentils, and was delighted to find that the soaking nicely brought these orange beauties out of their brown outer skins. You can stock up on local lentils at the Fill Your Pantry event November 18 from noon to 4 PM at Sprout (pre-order here). This recipe uses an unusual cooking technique in which the liquid from the softened soaked lentils is evaporated quickly over high heat with a minimum of stirring, creating a fluffy pilaf rather than a creamy soup. Here's the game plan: first thing when you get home, start a pot of rice cooking. Then mince some ginger and start toasting the spices for the lentils. Once you get the lentils cooking down in their water, warm some flatbread, cut up some crunchy carrots and peppers, put out some condiments like chutney, yogurt, and Indian pickles, and then sit down to enjoy a satisfying vegetarian meal.
Dry-Cooked Red Lentils with Cumin Seeds (Sookhi Dhullt Masoor Dal)
adapted slightly from Neelam Batra's 1,000 Indian Recipes
1 cup red lentils, rinsed well (such as Camas Country Mill's red chief lentils)
1 1/2 cup water
1/4 cup cooked and minced beets (optional, used to give the lentils a red hue)
2 Tbsp vegetable oil
3 to 5 dried red chile peppers, such as chile de arbol
1 1/2 tsp cumin seeds
1 Tbsp peeled minced ginger
2 tsp ground coriander
1/2 tsp ground cumin
1/2 tsp garam masala
1/2 tsp salt, or to taste
1/4 cup freshly chopped cilantro
1 Tbsp fresh lime or lemon juice
4 scallions, finely sliced
1. Combine the lentils, water, and beets (if using) in a bowl and allow to soak 2 hours or longer.
2. Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium high heat.Cook the chile pepper until they puff up, about 1 minute. Add the cumins and let them sizzle for a few seconds. Add the ginger and stir for about a minute. Add the coriander, ground cumin, and garam masala and cook for a few seconds until fragrant.
3. Add the lentils with their soaking water and the salt and cook over high heat until the water has evaporated and the lentils are tender, about five minutes (taste and add a little more water if you need to). Stir a few times with a fork just to fluff, but take care not to break the lentils.
4. With a fork, gently mix in the citrus juice and chopped cilantro, transfer to a serving bowl, sprinkle with the chopped scallions, and serve.