The first time I ever cooked red lentils, they promptly turned yellow and fell apart–which is what they are meant to do, only I didn’t know it then. Red lentils are lentils with the hulls removed; in addition, they are also usually split in half, so they cook (and disintegrate) fairly quickly. I look forward to this transformation, because the resulting golden, buttery, and aromatic stew-like dish is the ultimate comfort food served on top of rice, or even eaten on its own.
Most dal recipes call for spices cooked in oil (a tadka) to be added to the lentils at the end of the cooking time. This recipe also calls for cooked onions, garlic, and spices to be added at the beginning, too. Mmm good. And even better because my husband made the version shown below (pictured with brown rice). This dal is great the second day because it thickens slightly and the flavors deepen, so it’s an excellent make-ahead dish.
Red Lentils with Coriander and Cumin (Masoor Dal)
1 c. red split lentils (masoor dal)
4 c. water
2 tbsp. canola oil
1/2 large onion diced
3 cloves garlic
1 tsp. coriander seeds
1 tsp. ground ginger
1/2 tsp. ground turmeric
1 tsp. salt
2 tbsp. canola oil
1 tsp. whole cumin seeds
1 tsp. ground coriander
1 tbsp. butter (optional)
finely chopped cilantro (optional)
fried onions (optional)
1. Pick over the lentils, rinse thoroughly in a fine-meshed colander, and place in a heavy-bottomed pot along with the 4 c. water. Bring to a boil over high heat and remove any foam that rises to the surface.
2. Heat the 2 tbsp. canola oil in a skillet over medium heat, add the onion and cook until it is soft and translucent. Add the garlic and cook for 2-3 minutes, stirring frequently. Add the coriander seeds, ginger, and turmeric, and cook for 1 more minute. Add this mixture to the lentils; set the skillet to one side for later use.
3. Reduce the heat to low, cover the pot, and cook for about 30 minutes or until lentils are tender. The lentils will turn yellow as they cook and will disintegrate.
4. Toward the end of the lentils’ cooking time, heat the other 2 tbsp. oil in the same skillet over medium heat and add the cumin seeds. Let sizzle for a few seconds, then add the ground coriander and salt. Cook for 1 minute, then add the spices and oil to the lentils, along with the butter (if using). Stir to mix well.
5. Before serving, garnish with chopped cilantro and/or fried onions if desired.
Adapted from Madhur Jaffrey’s Indian Cooking.