When the days start getting cold and overcast, recipes that create that warm, cosy feeling that adds a ray of sunshine to winter days are exactly what one craves. And the humble lentil – not just a great source of protein and fiber, but also known for their high antioxidants and phytonutrients levels – with its nutty and earthen qualities, can fill just that gap, especially when combined with some warming spices – the key to making a humble lentil shine.
I love lentils – whether it is in a steaming bowl of soup, filling stews, cold winter salads or in a rich Indian dahl. They are so versatile and a perfect canvas for other flavours – whether it is some earthy bay leaf and peppery olive oil, sweetness of sweated onions, warmth of turmeric or other ground spices, zesty yoghurt, richness of balsamic vinegar, or the heat of ginger and chilli.
The simplicity of the below lentil dish is genius and, it is not until you add the final touches, that you can see the true beauty of this humble dish.
Start with a small cup of lentils (enough for 2-3 people). I used split red lentils. These disintegrate while cooking, giving the final dish its creamy texture. Put the lentils in a pot and add half a sliced medium onion, half a teaspoon of turmeric and half a teaspoon of pink Himalayan salt. Cover with cold water (roughly 3 cups) and let it simmer very gently on low heat until almost all the water is absorbed (no need to stir). Once the lentil mixture is thick with only a little bit of water remaining, stir in the chopped coriander (or parsley) and continue cooking for a few more minutes while you work on the finishing touches – which is what lifts the lentil from an ugly duckling to a beautiful white swan.
Put a small frying pan on the heat and add some coconut oil. Thinly slice a few cloves of garlic (3-4 small ones or 2 large ones) and add them to the pan with a few dry red chillies (I used 2). Toast until the garlic is golden brown and the chillies have released their oils. At this point add the whole mixture (including the oil, which would have gently infused with the aromas of chilli and garlic) to the lentils. Stir, take off the heat and let it sit, covered, for 10-15 minutes to infuse. It is this addition of gently browned garlic and toasted dried chilli that so beautifully perfumes the dish and lifts it to the new level.
The final dish is very gentle – yet hearty and filling – with a hint of sweetness coming from the onion, warmth from a touch of turmeric and garlic, and gentle heat coming from the chillies. Each mouthful brings a gentle heat lingering in your mouth, leaving you wanting more.
I would suggest having this with a side of wild rice as legumes, while very high in protein, are low in amino acid methionine, which is necessary to form high quality protein. Combining lentils (or other legumes) with a side of carbohydrates (which are reach in methionine), forms a complete protein – essential for our health and energy – which is the same quality protein as the one found in meat and eggs for example.
P.S.: with a special thank you to my dearest friend for sharing her family dahl recipe, which will become a regular staple in my kitchen