Another new year. Another new start. I seriously needed to do a major purge of the old pantry. Big time. Huge time. I’ve turned into a little bit of a spice hoarder. I blame it fully on the awesome Dekalb Farmers Market in Atlanta. There are so many great things I love about this place, but my most favorite thing about them is their really affordable, fresh, bulk spices. I hate that it costs an arm and a leg to buy spices from the supermarket – and chances are, they’ve been sitting there on the shelves for ages! At DFM pack dates and country of origin are always printed right there on the label. And did I mention cheap? $1.75 for a tub of whole nutmeg. Crazy talk, I tell you! The only problem is, there’s just so much in a tub that I have no hope of going through them in a realistic amount of time.
In any case, that’s how I ended up with 20 or so tubs of whole and ground spices accumulated over the years. I needed to do a major purge of my pantry in the worst of ways. I ended up getting rid of a ton of spices, repacked a ton more spices into cute and affordable 4 oz canning jars, and found four (FOUR!) types of lentils languishing around in the depths of my pantry. Did I mention DFM is the KING of bulk foods?
So in the spirit of the new year, here is a nourishing and amazingly delicious recipe for spiced red lentils by Yottam Ottolenghi from his column, the new vegetarian, in The Guardian. I generally find Indian food really hard to make at home. I can never get the combination of spices right and everything usually ends up tasting a little…flat. But this recipe is it, my friends. This recipe makes me want to run out right now and pick up his cookbooks right away! I could not stop eating this out of the pot standing at the stove. There’s a really great balance of salty, spicy, bitter, sweet, and sour.
My favorite part rand what initially drew me to the recipe was the cilantro. Now, I know there are a lot of cilantro haters out there. If that’s you, turn away now. This recipe is not for you. What’s so unusual about this recipe is that it calls for using the whole bunch. And I really mean the entire bunch. Kind of like tip-to-tail cooking of the vegetarian variety. Most recipes will call for a few tablespoons or even a handful of cilantro leaves. No, no. Not here. We will use the leaves and stems of a whole bunch of cilantro. Plus! We even use its seeds! Coriander seeds (fresh cilantro is also known as fresh coriander in other parts of the globe). Seeds. Stems. Leaves. You won’t have to store away any part of the cilantro after making this dish. Well, OK. You will probably have to store away the seeds, but isn’t that glorious! No partial bunch of herbs left to languish in the crisper.
Don’t let the long list of ingredients scare you! It’s super easy to make once you have the ingredients on hand. I made a few adjustments based on what I had in my pantry. I left out the fenugreek and asafetida. I also added bay leaves because I didn’t have fresh curry leaves. It doesn’t really mimic the flavor of curry leaves, but does give the lentils a deeper, savory flavor. I also made these spicy spiced lentils by adding in some Thai chilis. This recipe could very easily be vegan if you don’t add the butter or leave out the yogurt topping. Finally, the recipe calls for throwing a bunch of the ingredients into a food processor to mince up. It definitely makes the prep work so much faster and easier. I didn’t want to drag out the food processor, so I just hand chopped everything. I actually find chopping and prep work very soothing and meditative. I’m weird that way.
So without further ado…
Spiced Red Lentils
(adapted from Yottam Ottolenghi, The New Vegetarian)
2 cups red lentils
3 cups water
1 bunch cilantro (if not using a processor, mince it very finely)
1 large onion (if not using a processor, dice small)
6 garlic cloves (if not using a processor, mince fine)
3-inch piece fresh ginger (if not using a processor, grate on a microplane)
4 Thai chilis (if not using a processor, chop fine)
1 1/2 teaspoons black mustard seeds
1 Tablespoon whole coriander (or 1 1/2 tsp ground)
2 teaspoons whole cumin (or 1 tsp ground)
1 teaspoon ground turmeric
2 teaspoons ground sweet paprika
10 fresh curry leaves (or 2 bay leaves)
4 cups chopped tomatoes (about 5 plum tomatoes)
2 generous tsp honey
1/2 teaspoon fenugreek (optional)
Pinch of asafetida (optional)
sea salt, to season
2 Tablespoons butter (optional)
Juice of 1/2 lemon
Plain Greek yogurt
- Rinse the lentils well under running water, then place them in a bowl with the water and soak while you prepare the rest of the ingredients.
- Meanwhile, take the cleaned bunch of cilantro and cut it in half roughly so that the bottom half is predominantly stems and the top is predominantly leaves. Chop the leaves and set aside.
- In a food processor, chop the cilantro stems, onions, garlic, and ginger to a fine mince.
- Chop the tomatoes and set aside.
- Bring a large dutch oven or heavy-bottomed pot to medium high heat. Drizzle the bottom with oil. It should be hot enough for the oil to shimmer.
- Add the mustard seeds and stand back. Wait for the mustard seeds to pop. It’s important that they pop on higher heat. Otherwise, they will be bitter. [I learned this the hard way!]
- Once the popping has slowed to 1 or 2 every few seconds, turn the heat down to medium, and add the minced cilantro stems, onions, garlic, and ginger. Sauté until the mixture cooks down and is a bit caramelized and fragrant. About 10 minutes.
- Add the ground coriander, cumin, turmeric, paprika, asafetida, fenugreek, and bay leaves, and continue cooking, stirring frequently, for 3 minutes.
- Add the lentils and its soaking water, the tomatoes, honey, and salt, and stir to blend. Cover and simmer for about 30 minutes, until the lentils are fully cooked.
- Turn off the heat. Stir in the butter, lemon juice, and cilantro leaves.
- Serve hot, topped with a generous dollop of plain Greek yogurt and diced avocado.