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Get a Load of Them Lentils

No really…go get a load of them. There is good reason to consume lots of lentils. They are packed full of nutrients. These tiny morsels are delicious when you know how to prepare them with the aroma and taste of exotic spices.

I have been noticing that I scheduled a number of Indian Cuisine classes. It’s kind of a conscious decision. Mostly because it’s so much fun to blend the wonderful spices and create, rather reinvent authentic Indian, Sri Lankan, Asian dishes. According to my on line surveys, Asian, Indian, and the Mediterranean cuisines are the most desired classes. When it comes to lentils, they are very forgiving as a side or main for a variety of cultural dishes.

Last night I was working in and driving around Scarborough. I often make a stop at the Karachi Bazaar at 122 Ellesmere Road. It’s on my way home when I perform a “What’s for Dinner” at the Scarborough Town Center. I discovered this little mercantile about two months ago. At the time, I was on the lookout for some hard to find items, curry leaves to mention one. As I was driving by I thought, I wonder what’s in there??? It is a clean well-run friendly Indian grocery store. You can find every spice, lentil, rice or condiment under the sun. It’s a “be careful” trip for me as I end up walking out with a load of goodies. Last night I picked up some asafoetida and some Black Matpe Beans, better known as white lentils or Urad (Urid) Dal. These are black lentils (or urad dal) that have been split and skinned. They’re much milder than unskinned and cook up rather quick. Good brand as they require no soaking and little to no cleaning.

I have been experimenting with all colours and sizes of lentils. My pantry is loaded with a variety just waiting to be discovered for recipe development. What’s my fascination with lentils you ask? Well…I was prepping Roti for one class that incorporated them into the mixture. When I tasted the boiling batch (insert magic music sound here) I found they were absolutely delicious…all on their own. There was a time I was “off” lentils as they affected me. You know… most beans cause flatulence. This time, shall we say, I was unaffected. That’s where the asafoetida comes in. A little pinch is its claim to fame. It has a strong leek or onion like scent that mellows out in the cooking process. This flavourful powdery substance is known to take care of any discomfort beans may cause your system…ahem.

Lentils contain a myriad of health properties. A member of the legume family, they are low in fat and calories. Lentils provide good amounts of vegetable protein and are very high in dietary fibre. A ½ cup serving of lentils gives 9 grams of protein and 7.8 grams of dietary fibre. Lentils are an excellent source of folate, and a good source of iron and phosphorus. They are also a source of zinc and magnesium. If you are looking for meat alternatives or leaning towards a vegetarian or vegan diet, these little babies are just the protein. Pair a 1/2 cup serving with a whole grain and you’re good to go!

There are many lentils to choose from which offer a wide range of textures when cooked. The Indian culture enjoys them dried or like a thick soup, called dal or daal. It’s the seasonings of dal recipes that make this legume so special. Here is a highly aromatic version that I tweaked for our Western palates. It uses a sweet spice onion seasoning with whole cinnamon, cloves, cardamom…and of course a pinch of asafoetida!

Package 1/2 cup portions to freeze and microwave. Asafoetida comes in an easy to dispense package.

Sweet Spiced Dry (Sukhi) Dal

1 cup urad dal, clean, wash (optional to soak dal for 15 minutes) 1 medium onion, thinly sliced 2″ stick cinnamon 6 green cardamom pods, crushed 6 whole cloves 1 large bay leaf 1 tsp. cumin seeds 1/2 tsp. turmeric powder 1/2 tsp. freshly ground black pepper pinch asafoetida also known as hing, (onion or garlic powder may be substituted) 1 hot fresh green chili or chili flakes, optional and to taste if you like it hot coarse kosher salt to taste 1 teaspoon honey, maple syrup, or agave 1 juice and rind of half a lemon 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, ghee, and/or butter (I used a combination of olive oil and 1 teaspoon of butter) 1 tablespoon fresh coriander finely chopped (I had some flat leaf parsley on hand).

  1. Boil the dal in 5 cups water, turmeric and coarse kosher salt.

  2. Simmer, about 20 minutes until the dal is soft but still firm. Drain water.

  3. In a saucepan, heat oil and or butter. Add all spices and cumin seeds. Allow the cumin seeds to begin sizzling, then add onions.

  4. Stir fry until onions are light brown.

  5. Add cooked urad dal, lemon juice, rind and maple syrup. Stir gently.

  6. Garnish with coriander.

  7. Serve hot with a stir fried vegetable and whole grain brown basmati rice.

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