Trying to eat simply is a good idea, but time is of the essence. How much time will I spend on cooking? The slow food movement, which I endorse, despite the fact that it is a movement, prizes long process. But on a weeknight, after work, it can be challenging. Red lentils are an easy solution. They take 20 minutes to cook. I realize for many or most families this recipe will be a slow food recipe, because it takes about an hour to get it to table. And I have kitchen skills, which means I don’t have to think about things like, how to organize the prep. I also don’t work from a recipe. But having a vegetarian and nourishing meal on the table in an hour is worth it. And if this seems daunting for a Wednesday, then make it on Sunday.
I have been running all week with errands. Yesterday was no exception. I left work early to walk down to the mechanic’s to pick up my wreck of a car. I got home and it was hot. I had in my mind an insanely healthy sounding meal, dal with vegetables and black quinoa. I had no plan other than that. Both red lentils and quinoa have to be rinsed thoroughly, which is tedious. So I rinsed the red lentils and got them on the stove, and then rinsed the quinoa. Quinoa tastes bitter dirt if it isn’t rinsed in 4 or 5 or even 10 changes of water. The grains are tiny and hard. When rinsed properly quinoa tastes earthy, not like dirt. It’s still an acquired taste I suppose, but since it’s a taste I’ve acquired, it’s something I make more and more often. There are political economic considerations: it’s expensive, and the Bolivians for whom it is a staple increasingly are unable to afford it. But two cups goes a long way, and it’s gluten free and extremely healthy. So I cook it occasionally. I put the quinoa in a pot and add water, swirling and rubbing the grains between my fingers, and then pouring out the water through a strainer, because those little grains get away. Do this many times, until the water is clear. I’d say 6-10 times. The same method works with red lentils. Swish and pour, rinse and swish and pour, until the water is clear. So now the dal is on the stove and the quinoa is on the stove and all that remains is to prepare the spice mixture, the vegetables, and the fried onions.
My methods are riffs off of traditional Indian preparations. So: I cook the dal in water with a bay leaf and a cinnamon stick. I fry minced ginger with coriander, cumin and tumeric in oil for two minutes and put it into the pot. I add long cooking vegetables like kale and potatoes and carrots, chopped garlic and fresh onion cut into wedges. The I thinly slice onions and garlic and fry them in oil in which panch pora, or a mix of seeds, have been tempered. The mix is: fennel, fenugreek, cumin, black cumin and black mustard. Then I add the fast cooking vegetables, chard, green beans or zucchini, add the fried onion mixture, finish it with chopped tomatoes, cilantro, garam masala and lemon juice.
This sounds like an enormous amount of work, but it’s not, if you have these things on hand. As the the dal cooked with the potatoes and kale I ran out into the garden and picked some green beans, chard, tomatoes and carrots. As I chopped each thing I added it to the pot. It was easy because I have been making this dish or a variation on it for 30 years, and because I didn’t need to shop or look for things. My point here is not to say hey, I’m great! It is, rather, good nourishing food starts with a good pantry and developing a few techniques for getting it done.
So here is the recipe:
2 cups quinoa, rinsed thoroughly
4 cups water
1 t salt
Bring quinoa, water and salt to a boil, reduce heat, cook with the lid off until the grains have started to puff and then put a lid on it, lower the flame and let it absorb the water, for at least 20 minutes. Turn off the heat, fluff up the grains with a fork, and leave the lid on until you are ready to eat. If there is still water drain it out.
2 cups red lentils
8 cups water
2 t salt
1 bay leaf
1 cinnamon stick
Rinse dal thoroughly, until the water runs clear, and then combine all the ingredients in a pot. Bring to a boil and the reduce heat to a strong simmer.
2-3 T minced ginger
2 T oil
4 t coriander
1 T cumin
1 t tumeric
1/2 t black pepper
Heat oil and add ginger. After a minute add the spices. Fry mixture over medium to low heat, stirring so it doesn’t burn until fragrant. Add to the dal, adding water from the dal back into the frying pan to get all of the spice mixture.
This is up to the chef. Any combination will do. The longer they cook the softer they’ll be. Indian cooking prizes soft vegetables. I used a handful of diced potatoes, two handfuls of chopped kale, a handful of carrots chopped into chunks, 4 cloves of garlic, a handful of wedged onions. Then I added a handful of beans and 4 stalks of swiss chard. This is when you can add as many jalapeno peppers as you like.
One large onion thinly sliced (if it’s a giant onion, make it half)
4 cloves garlic, sliced
1/2 t each whole cumin, black mustard seeds, fennel seeds, fenugreek and black cumin if you have it. I also used a tiny bit of asfoeteda.
4 T oil
Heat oil in an iron frying pan over medium heat. Add seeds. When they begin to pop, add onions and garlic, stir, raise heat to medium high and fry, stirring often, until browned. Add to the dal.
The Finish Line:
2 C quartered plum tomatoes, or round tomatoes cut into eighths
1/2 C chopped cilantro
Juice of two lemons
1 t garam masala
When the vegetables are tender, and the fried onion mixture is done and in the pot, add a teaspoon of garam masala and the tomatoes. Stir. When the tomatoes are heated up (a minute or two) add the lemon juice and cilantro. Taste for salt. Serve with the quinoa. You will be happy. I was.