Food & Wine (May 2012)
We love food magazines for introducing us to new ingredients. But we really love learning how to combine familiar foods in new ways. That was the case with this Red Lentil Dal. It's made from relatively familiar ingredients -- lentils, asparagus, chiles, fennel, onions, coriander, even tamarind, which we've cooked with before -- but the sum of the parts was a completely new thing for us.
This recipe leapt out to us from the pages of Food & Wine. It was a no-brainer, really. We adore red lentils. And between our CSA and overpurchasing at the farmers market, we're swimming in asparagus right now.
Dal (or dahl, daal, dhal) refers to any variety of lentil dishes. It's a staple on nearly every Indian menu. The idea of making dal may sound daunting, but once you've assembled all your ingredients, the dish comes together very quickly.
The steps are simple: Cook and reserve the lentils; toast the spices in oil; saute with garlic and onions; add the asparagus and mix in the lentils. That's it! It's easy, and the majority of the ingredients should be available at your local supermarket, and definitely at your local Whole Foods, if you have one. (See our notes below about sourcing red lentils and tamarind concentrate.)
We assumed that we had tamarind concentrate in the fridge, but once we started cooking, we realized we had used it all to make Malaysian Beef Rendang earlier this year. In its place, we substituted two tablespoons of fresh lime juice, which worked quite well.
Here's the thing that surprises us about this dish. Sure, the lentils and asparagus are great. But the red onions, thinly sliced and then sauteed with a heavy dose of spices, are absolutely knock-out. They're almost sweet in the dish. Perhaps it's the lime juice that brought out their sweetness, or maybe the fennel. We're not sure, exactly, but they're phenomenal.
It may be Indian fare, but this is spring comfort food at its best: fresh, vegetarian and easy to pull together.
In fact, it's a dreary, rainy morning today, and we're already thinking about making this again for dinner tonight...
Red Lentil Dal with Tamarind and Asparagus
Adapted slightly from Naomo Duguid/Food & Wine (May 2012)
Subscribe to Food & Wine
Nutritional Information available at FoodandWine.com
Total Time: 45 minutes
Tips and Notes from Zach and Clay of The Bitten Word:
- Red lentils can sometimes be found with the dried beans at the supermarket, but we find them most frequently in the bulk bins. We consistently find them at Whole Foods.
- Tamarind concentrate is available at most Asian supermarkets.
- We were out of tamarind concentrate, so we substituted two tablespoons of fresh lime juice.
- We made one small change to the method below, draining the excess water from the cooked lentils. We're assuming that was meant to be included.
- The recipe suggests serving this with rice, but we loved it on its own.
- For those of you who are heat-phobic, we did use 1 serrano chili (seeds and all) and found the temperature to be very mild. If you're concerned about the heat of the dish, we would suggest removing the seeds and ribs from the pepper your select.
1 cup masur dal (red lentils), rinsed
1 quart water
1/4 teaspoon turmeric
1/4 cup vegetable oil
1/2 teaspoon yellow mustard seeds
1/2 teaspoon fennel seeds
1/2 teaspoon ground coriander
1 serrano chile, halved lengthwise
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 medium red onion, thinly sliced
1/2 pound thin asparagus, cut into 1-inch lengths
1 teaspoon tamarind concentrate blended with 1 tablespoon hot water; if you can't find tamarind concentrate, substitute 2 tablespoons of fresh lime juice.
In a medium saucepan, combine the lentils with the water and bring to a boil. Skim off the foam and stir in 1/8 teaspoon of the turmeric. Cover partially and simmer over moderately low heat, stirring occasionally, until the lentils break down, about 20 minutes. Drain the excess water from the lentils using a fine mesh sieve.
Meanwhile, in a large skillet, heat the oil. Add the mustard seeds and cook over moderate heat until they start to pop, 1 minute. Add the fennel seeds, coriander, chile and the remaining 1/8 teaspoon of turmeric and stir until fragrant, 30 seconds. Add the garlic and onion and cook over low heat, stirring occasionally, until softened, 8 minutes.
Add the asparagus to the skillet. Cover and cook until crisp-tender, about 3 minutes. Add the lentils and dissolved tamarind and bring to a simmer. Season the dal with salt. Serve with lime wedges and rice, or eat it on its own.