Green lentils

Green lentils b&w

 

Green lentils are wonderful in Punjabi green lentil dhal. That is one of my most popular recipe, and  I wrote here about starting to cook Indian food, learning from a friend and getting to know the spices. I thought it was about time to update it with some photos and make the dhal again. And yes, the dhal is still wonderful. So wonderful that I – erm… – ate the dhal before taking photos of the final dish…! I’m such a rubbish blogger. Will have to have another go soon at finishing updating that post. Smile

 

Green lentils

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Punjabi green lentil dhal – incredibly easy and incredibly tasty

Spice box

About two years ago, or perhaps a bit less, when I first started cooking Indian food, a very kind and generous British lady of Punjabi origin invited me to her home for what she jokingly called ‘a curry lesson’. I watched wide-eyed and scared. In awe of all the spice jars and containers dancing in front of my very own eyes. At a time, I knew and recognised a lot of them and had them in my own kitchen, but had precious little clue on what to do with them, if truth be told. That day was a turning point in my cooking in general for several reasons. The first, and perhaps the most important lesson, was to relax. Before, I was confused with all these spices, and scared I’m doing things wrongly. Watching her cook was amazing. She was instinctive, creative, spontaneous. ‘Shall we add a bit of this?… And what do you think that will taste?… I think I’ll do this….’ I relaxed in my mind, and in my attitude towards Indian food; I wasn’t ‘scared’ anymore and started trying things out. This is when the second lesson kicked in: trying things out, and getting to know my ingredients. See how it goes, and learn. Smell and taste. Learn which flavours go together, experiment. Watch what is happening at every stage. Feel and touch. Get involved with your food. See what it feels like at each stage. (Of course, this works with certain foods only.) I truly learnt only by trying and following my instincts. And then remembering and/or writing down what I’d done. And than doing it again.

If you recognise yourself in any of the above, maybe I could help you see that cooking Indian food doesn’t have to be daunting and complicated. Let’s have a look at this very simple Punjabi dhal. Simple in flavour, and simple in technique, but uncompromisingly delicious. Green lentils are simply cooked with turmeric, and then seasoned with a tarka of cumin seeds,fried onions (until brown), ginger and garlic, and then finished off with some garam masala.

Tarka is an Indian technique of frying spices in ghee or oil, sometimes with the addition of some combination of onions, garlic and chillies. This is done either at the beginning of cooking, or at the end. For more information, see Barbara’s post Teaching Tarka. If lentils are its body, tarka is the life and soul of the dhal. The tarka as a final flavouring gives it a character that makes it different from any other of its kind made with same lentils. It defines its origin as Punjabi like this one (with ghee, cumin and onions), South Indian (flavoured with curry leaves, mustard seeds and red chillies) or Bengali (with panch phoron, the characteristically Bengali five spice mix.)

Turmeric

Do try and make this, and when you do, smell the turmeric cooking with the lentils. Take a bit of lentils with a spoon and feel them with your fingertips. See how they feel on your tongue, between your teeth. Follow how they change in texture and flavour. When you’re making the tarka, watch for the bubbles around your wooden spoon that will tell you when the oil or ghee are hot enough for the cumin seeds to go in. When the cumin is in, watch how it sizzles and changes colour. Smell it. Don’t let it burn – things happen quickly with some spices. Now the onions. Watch them loose liquid, and then change colour from translucent, to golden through to reddish and then brown. How sweet they smell, how moreish they become. (See my post ‘Cooking Indian: How to Fry Onions’.)

Green lentils b&w

I adapted this recipe from Vicky Bhogal’s book ‘Cooking Like Mummyji’. I added a teaspoon of cumin seed at the beginning of the onion tadka, upped the chilli and garlic, and reduced the amount of garam masala. The latter is up to you and your tastes, but for me the cumin makes all the difference, and I urge you to try it. I really love the warming aroma of cumin seeds popped in ghee or oil in this dhal. At a pinch, you can use ground cumin if you don’t have cumin seeds, but please add it after the onions are browned (and not at the beginning, before the onions, because it will burn). The flavour is slightly different, but it will add the important cumin note to the dish.

Another change, a little unorthodox for Punjabi cooking perhaps, is that I added a pinch of sugar to the cooked lentils, like they do in Bengal. I find that the sugar round off the flavours really nicely, and mellows the dish.

Vicky calls the recipe ‘whole lentils cooked in a pressure cooker’. I didn’t cook them like that, so that doesn’t apply to me. Plus I find this title a bit too generic, so I’m changing the name to ‘Punjabi green lentils with deep brown onions and garam masala’.

Green lentils

I’ve made this dish a few times, and it’s always been a hit with Someone I Know And Love.  It goes really well with a dollop of yoghurt, some kale aloo, and chapatti. I have just made Anita’s garam masala, and can’t wait to cook this dhal again with it!

Someone I Know And Love has gone off for two weeks and taken our camera with him. No photos, but I will try to get a friend to exchange her photographic skills for some nosh.

This post is going to the wonderful Lisa for the event No Croutons Required. This month, we’re focusing on Indian soups and salads. Right up my street! I can’t wait to see the round-up.

 

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Punjabi green lentils with deep

brown onions and garam masala

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SOURCE:  adapted from Vicky Bhogal’s ‘Cooking Like Mummyji’

PREPARATION TIME: about 5 min

COOKING TIME: about 40 min

CUISINE: Indian, Punjabi

SERVES: 4 as a side dish, or 2 – 3 as a main

INGREDIENTS:

1 cup whole green lentils

1 tsp ground turmeric

1/2 tsp salt (or to taste)

a small pinch of brown sugar (optional)

1 tbsp ghee / vegetable oil

1 heaped tsp of cumin seeds

1 small yellow onion, sliced thinly (or chopped finely, if you wish)

2 cloves of garlic

1 tsp grated fresh ginger

2 – 3 birds eye green chillies, sliced

1/4 tsp Punjabi garam masala

chopped coriander for garnish (optional)

METHOD:

1. Put the lentils into a pan with 2 cups of water (for now, you might need more later if you want it runnier). Let it boil, and skim the scum from the top. Now add turmeric, and continue cooking until soft. When the lentils are soft, add the salt. Add a pinch of sugar if you want now. Add some warm water if you like your lentils less thick or even soupy. (Vicky leaves her lentils whole, but I like to mash some of them up to make the dish creamier.)

2. To make the tarka, first pop the cumin seeds in some hot ghee. First, heat the ghee or oil (it’s hot enough when it starts sizzling when you insert a wooden spoon in it), and then add the cumin. Fry for a few seconds, until the cumin releases its fragrance (watch out, it burns quickly). Then, add the onion, sprinkle it with salt, and fry until golden brown. Now add the chillies, ginger and garlic, and fry for some more, until they soften and loose their raw flavour. If the ginger starts sticking to the pan, add a little water and scrape off. (I usually chop the onion first, then while they’re frying, prepare garlic, ginger and chillies, and add it as I go.)

3. Pour the onion mixture into the dhal and stir through, leaving some tarka on top. Now add the garam masala.

4. Garnish with coriander if using, and serve with some chapattis or rice.

Enjoy!  

More dhals from this blog:

Bengali Red Dhal

Minty dhal (2 versions of  recipe)

Sri Lankan Coconut Dhal

Also:

More recipes with beans and lentils

 

For the winter blues: Sri Lankan coconut dhal

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Hello! How are you, how’s the world at your end? Here in the UK, we’re cocooned in layers of snow of varying thickness, depending on where you are. When I was coming home tonight, around 6.30 pm, I felt this thick layer of snow under my feet is starting to freeze. I wonder what we’ll wake up to tomorrow. As idyllic as it all looks, us Mediterranean types are not faring to well in these conditions. All I want to do is hibernate until the sun shines back on us again. But though I refuse to believe it, the life goes on. There are jobs to do, people to see, dinners to cook… Yes… Dinners… Here’s what kept me awake and re-energised me this evening. Remember that delicious Sri Lankan dhal I was telling you about earlier? Here’s the recipe. Without the photos for now, until my camera awakes from its winter sleep. (I meant to take photos this evening, but my camera failed me.)

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This dhal is a serious contender for the title of my favourite dhal, so far held by the seductive Bengali Red Dal. It has a rich gutsy flavour of red lentils cooked with onion, garlic, chillies, and cumin and black pepper, imbued with the heady aroma of curry leaves, and with a squeeze of lime to heighten your senses. I normally prefer to eat my dhal on the same day I make it, but this one I find improves with time. That is if you can stay away from it and leave some for tomorrow. I’m proud to day that this time I managed to do just that. Not even I can eat this much dhal at one sitting!

Let not the long list of ingredients intimidate you. This dhal is really very easy to make, and you can leave it to look after itself while you’re doing something else. Like making Sri Lankan coconut rotis, for example. Yes, that’s a good thing to do. (Recipe coming soon.) 

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Sri Lankan coconut dhal

 

SOURCEJasmine’s recipe

PREPARATION TIME: under 5 min

COOKING TIME: about 45 min

CUISINE: Sri Lankan

SERVES: 3 – 4 as a side dish, or 2 as a main

 

INGREDIENTS:

1 cup of red lentils

1/4 red (medium to large) onions, or 2 shallots

2 large cloves of garlic, sliced

3 green chillies, roughly chopped

a handful of fresh curry leaves, shredded

1/3 tsp turmeric

2/3 tsp roughly ground cumin and black pepper mixture

1 scant tsp of fenugreek seeds

1/5 – 1/4 can of coconut milk

Juice of 1/2 lime, or more to taste

3 – 4 dried red chillies

salt to taste

a handful of (preferably fresh) curry leaves

1 tbsp vegetable oil or ghee

1 tbsp tempering spices (mixture of brown/black mustard seeds, cumin seeds and fennel seeds – see Sri Lankan spices for recipe)

1 1/2 tbsp fried onions (or 3 – 4 shallots, shredded and then fried as below)

 

METHOD:

Place the lentils in about 2 – 3 cups of water. Then chop the chillies, onions, garlic, shred the curry leaves and add them to the lentils, together with turmeric, fenugreek and the cumin and black pepper mixture. Boil together until the lentils turn soft.

When the lentils are soft, add the coconut milk and stir through.

Before you’re ready to eat, prepare the tadka or tempering for the dhal. I usually don’t have fried onions at hand, so this is what I do. I heat the oil and then add the chillies and the curry leaves to it. when the curry leaves are starting to turn crisp, I pop in the onions/shallots, and cook them until they’re almost copper brown. Then add a few more curry leaves (if you want, which I invariably do), and the tempering spices. Stir for 10 s or until they release their fragrance. Now pop the contents of the pan into the lentil mixture, reserving perhaps some for the garnish. Stir, put the lid back on, and leave it for a minute or two for the flavours to mingle and make friends.

Don’t forget the lime. I sometimes add it before adding the tadka to the lentils, and sometimes after the tadka. Either way, don’t leave it out. It really does make all the difference.

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More dhals from this blog:

Bengali Red Dhal

Minty dhal (2 versions of  recipe)

 

Also:

More recipes with beans and lentils

More Sri Lankan recipes

 

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We’re at the 8th helping of My Legume Love Affair hosted and organised by the talented Susan of The Well-Seasoned Cook. This is my entry for the event.  

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Warm Lentil Salad with Walnuts and Goats’ Cheese

I am submitting this delicious Warm Lentil Salad with Walnuts and Goats’ Cheese for the next Weekend Herb Blogging, hosted by Anna from Anna’s Cool Finds. This delicious salad is flavoured with thyme and bay leaf.  Both of these herbs are common in Croatian cooking.

Thyme grows wild in the small pine wood behind my house in Dalmatia. It is tiny, and has small pretty, purple flowers that have an amazing fragrance. That’s how I think of thyme. It’s called majcina dusica (pronounced ‘maytchina dushitsa’ in English), and it means  ‘mother’s little soul’, but it could be loosely (very loosely) translated as ‘mother’s little honey’. I’m not sure about the etymology of the name, and I couldn’t find anything about it one the Internet. The leaves are used in cooking, or for making tea. (I also know a wicked joke linked to majcina dusica, but I better give it a miss here! Anyhow, it doesn’t work very well in English.)  

This lovely salad can be served at buffets and parties, and it also makes a great lunch. IT can be made vegan by omitting the goats cheese. We had it for dinner with some crusty bread, and it was fantastic! Check the verdict section for more info on what we thought about it. The recipe is below!

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Warm Lentil Salad with Walnuts and Goats’ Cheese

 

SOURCE: Delia Smith’s Winter Collection

PREPARATION TIME: about 5 min

COOKING TIME: 20 – 30 min

SERVES: 4

Ingredients

8 oz (225 g) Puy lentils (green or brown variety will work just as well)
1½ oz (40 g) walnuts, roughly chopped
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
1 small red onion, peeled and finely chopped
1 bay leaf
1 fat clove garlic, peeled and crushed
1 heaped teaspoon fresh thyme leaves, chopped
salt and freshly milled black pepper

For the dressing:

2 crottin goats’ cheese or 4 oz (110 g) of any other firm goats’ cheese
1 fat clove garlic, peeled
1 level teaspoon sea salt
1 rounded teaspoon powdered mustard
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
2 tablespoons walnut oil
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 oz (30 g) rocket leaves
freshly milled black pepper

METHOD

First you need to cook the lentils. To do this, heat the oil in a medium saucepan and when it’s hot, lightly fry the chopped walnuts for about 1 minute. Then remove them with a draining spoon to a plate and keep them aside for later.

Now to the oil left in the pan, add the onion and crushed garlic and let these cook and soften for about 5 minutes. After that, stir in the lentils, bay leaf and thyme and make sure they all get a good coating with oil. Next add 10 fl oz (275 ml) of boiling water, but don’t add any salt – just put a lid on, turn the heat down to a gentle simmer and let the lentils cook for 30-40 minutes or until they’re tender and all the liquid has been absorbed. You really need to bite one to test if they’re done.

While the lentils are cooking you can prepare the dressing. Use a pestle and mortar and crush the garlic with the salt until it’s creamy, then add the mustard and work that into the garlic paste. After that, whisk in the balsamic vinegar, followed by the oils. Then season well with freshly milled black pepper.

As soon as the lentils are cooked, add salt to taste. Empty them into a warm serving bowl and while they’re still hot, pour the dressing over. Give everything a good toss and stir, then crumble the goats’ cheese all over and add the rocket leaves, torn in half. Give everything one more toss and stir, and serve straight away with the walnuts scattered over.

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Verdict

Delicious combination of different structures and flavours! Crunchy walnuts and salad leaves created a great contrast with creamy goats’ cheese and lentils. I loved the slightly sour notes of the balsamic vinegar combined with lentils, cheese and aromatic thyme and bay leaf. We will definitely have it again!

While the lentils were cooking, they were oozing delicious aromas. I tasted them, and they were gorgeous! We could have stopped cooking there and then, and had the lentils cooked with onion and herb only! I suggest you do the same!

We enjoyed the dressing, too, and we might use it again with different salads.

All in all, thumbs up for good old Delia! 🙂

Notes

We didn’t add rocket to the salad, but served the lentils on a bed of salad. Also, we used green lentils instead of Puy lentils, and soft goats’ cheese instead of hard goats’ cheese (hence the photos). This added extra creaminess to the structure, and the flavour of cheese permeated the whole salad. The result was very very rich in flavour. Next time we will try and use hard goats’ cheese, as suggested by Delia, to add more variety of flavour into different bites of the dish!

What I would do differently next time

This is only a tentative suggestion. I thought the walnuts were a little oily and turned out soft, and am thinking of either dry-roasting them next time, or not roasting them at all, to add more crunch to the texture. I will try frying them for less time, too. I think I might have done more than a minute this time.

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Random update:  have just realised this is my 50th post! 🙂

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Other lentil and goats’ cheese recipes in the blogosphere:

Donna Hay’s Lentil and goats’ cheese tarts at Other people’s food

Bulgur and Lentil Salad with Tarragon, Almonds, and Goat Cheese at Savoury and Sweet

Spinach Salad with Lentils and Crisp Warm Goat Cheese at Serious Eats

Lentil Salad with Mint and Goat Cheese at Better Bites

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