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Lentils – soupy, comforting and healthy

Photo Courtesy Of Gitika Baveja

A sizzling hot drizzle of spices completes a traditional Indian lentil dish.

Lentils, also called legumes or pulses, don't seem to get enough attention in our everyday meals. Lentils are an important part of an Indian meal, usually served daily with rice or bread. Indian markets carry a wide variety of split lentils, or daal, and some varieties are available at the Safeway and Lucky grocery stores in Los Altos.

Lentils create a comforting meal and are rich in proteins. I think they are perfect for a simple dinner meal served with a bowl of plain boiled rice, but they are even more satisfying when vegetables are added.

I have created an authentic Indian recipe for spinach daal. The dish is simple, but the elegant and soupy texture will leave you savoring the taste for a long time after your meal.

An important part of cooking lentils is mastering the tempering technique, tarka. This infuses the lentils with condiments and spices of your choice. Garam masala is a classic Indian spice mix available at well-supplied grocery stores. It can also be made at home to individual tastes. Before cooking, make sure to rinse lentils in water thoroughly to eliminate any stones and other debris that might be present.

Spinach daal

1 cup orange or yellow lentils

(also called masoor or

moong daal)

4 cups water

Salt to taste

1 cup fresh chopped, washed

spinach

Tempering ingredients

2 tablespoons vegetable oil

1 dry red whole chili

Pinch of asafetida (hing)

1/2 teaspoon cumin seeds

1/4 teaspoon turmeric powder

Dash of red chili powder

1 teaspoon freshly grated garlic

paste

2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

(add before serving)

1/2 teaspoon garam masala

powder (to garnish before

serving)

Wash lentils in water and cook on medium heat in 4 cups water. Add salt. Bring to boil. Reduce heat and simmer, stirring often, until lentils are very tender, approximately 15-20 minutes. Remove any scum from top once lentils boil. Add more water if necessary to keep lentils from sticking and to maintain soupy consistency. When lentils are tender, add spinach leaves and cook for 2-3 more minutes.

Heat oil in small saucepan and add cumin seeds. Allow to sizzle for a few seconds. Add asafetida, whole red chili, turmeric and red chili powder and cook a few more seconds until it starts to sizzle. Stir in garlic paste and cook for about a minute. Make sure not to burn garlic.

Immediately add to lentils, then add lemon juice and check for salt. Sprinkle garam masala powder just before serving.

Spinach daal can be served with freshly cooked boiled basmati rice or soft Indian naan bread.

For more recipes or a copy of Baveja's book, "Indian Flavors to Savor – The Easy Home-Cooked Way," visit www.flavorstosavor.com.

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