I could not let winter go away without talking lentils. Although, all things considered, winter does not appear to want to go away anytime soon. Well, it is that time of the year, when I am longing for a little more warmth, getting a little tired of my winter paraphenelia and of course rather eager to see more color in the landscape. For reasons other than the winter blues, I am pretty wiped today making it a perfect day to talk and cook lentils.
Lentils are quite the cornerstone of food in my household, we love them in all colors, shapes and complexity. I shall stick to yellow split lentils today, and a recipe adapted from my cookbook, The Bengali Five Spice Chronicles. The spicy context to this seasonal lentil creation is the process of tempering. This is something that is essential to spicing of Indian lentils and is as diverse as the Indian spice box itself. I have a few different varieties of seasonings for different spices and uses. Yes, just like not all lentils are made the same, not all finishes are the same, however the process is pretty similar.
That which we call the tarka or tempering essentially consists of heating the oil until it is almost smoking, then adding in the spices until the spices, sizzle, crackle and pop depending on the character of the spice blend.
This infuses the oil with the flavor of the spices which then is poured into the lentils and gently mixed in. This process gently seasons the lentils and you are in my son’s words, “all done.”
My lentils here get cooked to soft, comforting softness with a nice balance from the spinach and tomatoes added to it. The tempering here uses the Bengali Five Spice Blend or Panchphoron that I have discussed here. In an absolute pinch you can substitute this with mustard seeds.
This is actually the first time I have tried this recipe using canned chopped tomatoes and I am glad to see that it works out quite well, making it a wonderful posibility for other days in winter. I often use a pressure cooker for these lentils, which if you have one will get you an absolutely wonderful dinner in less than 15 minutes. So, now that I have convinced you that this dish should feature on your next week night menu, let me get moving to the recipe.
A simple and hearty lentil dish that is vegan and gluten-free.
- 3/4 cup yellow split lentils
- 21/2 cups of water
- 1/2 teaspoon turmeric
- salt to taste
- 3/4 cup chopped tomatoes (if using canned tomatoes, do not drain the juice)
- 11/2 teaspoons fresh ginger paste
- 2 cups of chopped baby spinach leaves
- 3 tablespoons oil
- 1 teaspoon panch phoron (Bengali Five Spice Blend)
- 1 small red onion, chopped
- In a large pot gently dry roast the yellow split lentils until the lentils are slightly darker and smell toasty and fragrant. This process enhances the flavor of the lentils significantly.
- Add in the water, turmeric, salt, chopped tomatoes and the ginger paste and bring the mixture to a simmer.
- Cook the mixture stirring occasionally for about 25 minutes, until the lentils nice and soft add some more water if needed.
- Add in the spinach leaves.
- In the meantine, heat the oil for about 45 seconds and add in the panch phoron and wait until the spices crackle.
- Add in the red onion and cook for about six to seven minutes until the red onion is soft and turning golden on the edges.
- Pour this over the lentils and stir in.
- Serve hot with rice or flatbreads.
Rinku Bhattacharya is a daytime financial professional, who spends the rest of her time immersed in food. Rinku is the author of the blog, Cooking in Westchester, where she shares her life experiences and original recipes that combine Indian spices with produce from her backyard and local farmers markets. Rinku is blessed with a gardener husband, who always surprises her with a prolific and fresh supply of produce to keep her creative instincts flowing. Rinku has been teaching recreational cooking classes for the past six years, and her cookbook the Bengali Five Spice Chronicles, highlights and offers many simple recipes from Eastern India. Rinku can be found on Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest