Thursday, April 14, 2011

Red Lentil and Tomato Daal

Knowing of our love for Indian food, Austin's sister Brisbane gave us Cooking School Indian for Christmas a couple years ago. The recipes in it sounded great and looked even better, yet the book just sat on our shelf, not a well-loved food stain on it. The main reason I pretended not to hear the books desperate cries for some action was that I was intimidated. The recipes called for ingredients like like red lentils, sev noodles, and several exotic spices, none of which I could find at the well stocked grocery store closest to us. Had I opened my eyes a bit wider I would've realized that we lived less than two minutes away from a store called Little India and another one called -- wait for it-- Spice Bazaar. It actually took several of my friend Rayn's enthusiastic recommendations for me to actually visit these establishments, which he became a patron of within a couple months of moving to Durham. Rayn 1, Sara 0.

Spices and other exotic ingredients in hand, I started cooking up an Indian storm. Austin and I even decided to cook up an Indian Feast for Valentines Day instead of going out. A daal similar to the one we had for dinner tonight was the star of that meal. While it was good, I thought it could use a couple tweaks so I modified it before sharing it with you. The result rivals some of the tastiest daals I've eaten at restaurants and was a lot cheaper. Yes, it takes about an hour to cook, but most of that time you can spend doing something else, since the daal only needs to be tended to occasionally. It also contains ingredients that you probably don't have in your pantry but the all-knowing Google can probably lead you to a place where you can procure them. While you're at it, why not purchase some other exotic food to experiment with? Who knows, wonderful things could happen.

Red Lentil and Tomato Daal
Adapted from Cooking School Indian's Tarka Daal
Makes 4 servings
  • 1 cup red lentils (actually they're more orange than red), rinsed until the water runs clear
  • 3 1/2 cups vegetable broth
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1/2 medium red onion, finely chopped
  • 2 jalapeños or Indian green chiles, minced
  • 1 teaspoon black or brown mustard seeds
  • 1 teaspoon cumin seeds
  • 1 teaspoon ground turmeric
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1 teaspoon salt or to taste
  • 1 28 oz / 794 g can diced tomatoes, drained
  • 1/3 cup finely chopped cilantro
1.  Put the lentils and the broth in a medium pot that has a cover. Bring to a boil, reduce to a simmer and cook uncovered for 10 minutes. Using a big spoon or a ladle, skim off the froth that forms on the surface of the lentil cooking liquid. Cover the pot and cook for another 40-45 minutes, stirring occasionally, or until the lentils are tender.
2.  While the lentils are cooking, heat the oil in a medium saute pan over medium heat. Add the mustard and cumin seeds and saute for about a minute. Toss in the onion and chile, cooking for another 5 minutes over medium low heat. Sprinkle in the turmeric and ground cumin and cook for another minute or so. Deglaze the pan by pouring in the tomatoes. Cook for another 5 minutes, then set the mixture aside.
3.  Once the lentils are done, stir in the tomato mixture and the cilantro. Take the pot off the heat and let it rest covered for 5 minutes to let the flavors mingle. Serve hot over rice (about 1/3 cup, measured before cooking, per person), maybe with a side of naan.


  1. This is surprisingly authentic :)
    It's the plain, everyday daal we have at home. One comment, red lentils are some of the lightest lentils. My mom used to make a watery soup out of them when we fell sick, since we're vegetarian and can't have chicken soup..this worked really well.
    If you cook Indian food a lot, you might consider getting a pressure cooker. It's much much quicker. That's what most Indian people use at home to make rice or daal. Of course, the real authentic way to cook some of the to put them in a clay pot over hot coals overnight :)
    Another thing you could do if you weren't a vegan is use clarified butter (ghee) instead of oil for the tempering. My mom puts a dollop of that, makes it yummier but of course, unhealthier :)

    BTW I love your blog :)

  2. Thanks Kritika! I actually meant to comment on the lightness of the dish but forgot. I feel that red lentils don't sit like a brick in your stomach like other legumes can. They seem not only light but easily digestible. I will take a page from your mom's book and make some lentil soup next time one of us falls sick.
    I've thought about getting a pressure cooker. My mother always had one growing up and she used it a lot, for soups, stews, pasta sauce, you name it. It is definitely quicker and therefore more energy efficient. As for the butter (which, as people say, makes anything better), I'm sure a little Earth Balance (non-hydrogenated, non-dairy butter) would also work well here.
    Thanks for all you insightful comments! I really appreciate them.