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Red Lentil Dal

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This delicious Indian lentil soup can be made in a fairly short time, and needs to be served over brown rice to make a complete dish.  It is flavorful and warming, with the added benefit that it doesn't require much chewing...a plus if you find yourself in a phase where your teeth are too sore to chew much!  Also delicious with hot naan on the side. This recipe is adapted from Nourishing Traditions by Sally Fallon. If you've never cooked with turmeric, you may want to go light on that spice at first...I love it now, but it's quite strong so a little goes a long way initially.  Some people drink turmeric mixed into hot milk, for its antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties.  It's really good stuff.  For more information on turmeric's health benefits, please see the wonderful book Healing Spices by Bharat B. Aggarwal, PhD, who is a researcher at the MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, TX. Indian and Middle Eastern grocery stores are a good place to find the spices in this recipe, if you have them in your area. For my blog post related to this recipe, please click here.  Please note: this dish does not freeze well--turns to mush once frozen and reheated.

Serves 4
Allergen list: dairy

Ingredients

1 1/2 cups red lentils, rinsed and picked over for rocks (you can find them in the bulk section of most Whole Foods).  Red lentils do not need to be soaked ahead of time.  
Filtered water
1 quart (4 cups) chicken stock (low sodium or homemade
1/4 tsp. Celtic sea salt
1 tsp. turmeric--use caution when working with turmeric, since it can stain porous countertops!
2 cloves garlic, peeled & pressed through a garlic press
2 tsp. whole cumin seeds (black or regular)
1/2 cup chopped fire roasted red peppers, about half of a 12-ounce jar (we like Trader Joe's brand the best)
4 Tbsp. butter
Sour cream, freshly-chopped cilantro (for garnish)

Directions

In a 6-quart pot with a lid, cover lentils with water and bring to a boil.  Skim off any foamy residue that rises to the surface, and add more water, as needed (red lentils rapidly absorb water and may burn to the bottom, so watch out!). Add salt, turmeric, and freshly-pressed garlic (you can dice it if you don't have a garlic press, or substitute 1/4 tsp. garlic powder).  Simmer the lentils, covered or partially covered with the lid, for about 25-30 minutes.  Stir occasionally to make sure they aren't sticking to the bottom, and add more water if necessary. The lentils will eventually cook down to a creamy consistency, similar to oatmeal. If you plan to serve this dish over rice, now is a good time to start the rice (unless you're making a quick-cooking variety like white basmati, which is done in 20 minutes or so).  

While you're waiting on the lentils and rice, chop the canned red peppers up into bite-sized pieces (don't add the juice they come in to this recipe).  Once the lentils are soft and creamy, sauté the red peppers and cumin seed in butter in a saucepan over medium heat until aromatic, about 8 minutes.  Pour mixture into the lentils, scraping any leftover cumin seeds out of the sauté pan. Sautéing the cumin seeds releases wonderful flavor, so don't skip this step...they end up just being crunchy and kind of tasteless if you don't sauté them first.  Simmer everything together for another 10 minutes or so, to let the flavors meld.

This dish is delicious topped off with sour cream; you can also add more salt and turmeric to each serving, as desired.  I also like to sprinkle a tiny bit of ground asafetida on mine.  Asafetida smells like death, but tastes amazing in small quantities. In the folklore of many cultures, it was reputed to ward off evil (which wouldn't stand a chance against that smell, anway).  Asafetida can be found in most Indian and Middle Eastern markets.  

Enjoy!