A friend of mine just headed for India, to design computer programs for a charity hospital. So, in her honor, I thought I'd do an Indian recipe this month.
Most people think instantly of curry when they think of Indian food. Well, "curry" as it is known in the U.S., is only one of numerous flavors/cuisines in this massive sub-continent, and even ordinary curry is more complex than most Westerners realize, since it consists of anywhere from 5 to dozens of spices, which can be mixed with infinite variability.
This recipe is not a curry, but it contains some of the most common spices found in curries — turmeric and red pepper. Besides being flavorful, both of these spices are good for lowering serum cholesterol. Traditionally, this recipe would be made with ghee — clarified butter — but it is expensive and/or time-consuming to buy or make ghee, so I substitute light olive oil. The difference in flavor is not significant, preparation will be less complicated, and olive oil is wonderfully good for you.
I love this dish, and usually serve it with basmati rice, an incredibly fragrant rice variety from India. A "salad" (or, more properly, a raita) to accompany this can be made by mixing a chopped cucumber into some plain yogurt flavored with sliced green onion, a little salt, and a dash of crushed, red pepper. Yum.
1½ cups lentils
¼ cup light olive oil
1 cup chopped onion
1½ tsp. salt
1 tsp. ground turmeric
1 tsp. ground cumin seeds
¼ tsp. crushed red peppers
½ cup snipped coriander leaves or parsley
Lemon peel for garnish, if desired
Cover lentils with water, and soak one hour. Heat lentils and water to boiling (as noted last month, rinsing the beans between soaking and cooking can reduce gastric disturbances, if that's important to you). Cook 45 minutes, adding water if necessary. Drain lentils well.
Heat oil in 12-inch skillet. Stir in onion, salt, turmeric, cumin and red peppers, cooking over low heat until onion is tender. Put some of this mixture aside, for garnish, if desired.
Stir lentils into oil and spices. Cook over low heat, stirring frequently, 20 minutes. (Watch carefully to prevent burning.) Just before it's done, stir in coriander leaves or parsley. Before serving, sprinkle with reserved onion, and garnish with strips of lemon peel, if desired.