#spices

Bengali Red Lentil Dhal

Do you need an "I've been out of town all weekend and have nothing in my fridge but want to put a healthy meal on the table pronto and have lunch for the week" kind of dish? For me, that dish is my 100% plant-based and pantry-sourced dhal and rice. It also get cheers from every single eater in my family. We make different variations of dhal, changing up the lentils, spices, aromatics and even the oil, but this Bengali Red Lentil Dhal cooks up quickest and uses the fewest ingredients. If you have them handy, you can brighten it up with chopped fresh tomatoes, cilantro leaves and slices of serrano or jalapeno peppers, luckily all things available from the garden this time of year. But those additions are not even necessary.

I have my Bengali-American friend, Ritu, to thank for this recipe. She taught it to me years ago before [tear] moving West. This dish comes closest to replicating the staple meal I ate daily while studying abroad in Nepal, half a lifetime ago. My quest for mastering dhal-bhat ended when Ritu showed me the ropes and her mom's recipe. While I'm at it, I guess I should also thank Ritu for providing fierce competition in office cooking challenges, forcing me to step up my game, and ultimately propelling me to culinary school.

What is dhal exactly? The word dhal comes from Sanskrit meaning "to split" and refers to a wide array of lentils, peas and beans (or pulses) that can be used to make dhal. But what distinguishes dhal from any other lentil soup or stewed pot of legumes is the tarka or tadka. This hot aromatic oil seasoned with onions, garlic, ginger, chilies, and toasted and ground spices is added to the cooked lentils toward the end of the cooking and adds dramatic flavor, color, digestive fire, and healing properties to the dish.

BENGALI RED LENTIL DAL

Yield: ~5 cups

What you need:

Panch Proon translates to "five spice" and includes equal parts fennel seeds, cumin seeds, whole fenugreek, black mustard sees and nigella (onion or black carraway) seeds. My panch proon blend is featured here with coriander seeds also used in this dhal.

Panch Proon translates to "five spice" and includes equal parts fennel seeds, cumin seeds, whole fenugreek, black mustard sees and nigella (onion or black carraway) seeds. My panch proon blend is featured here with coriander seeds also used in this dhal.

The dhal:

  • 2 cups red lentils

  • 4 - 5 cups water

  • ½ teaspoon kosher or sea salt

The tadka:

  • 2 tablespoons panch proon (see left)

  • 1 teaspoon coriander seeds

  • 2 tablespoons ghee or coconut oil

  • 1 onion, small dice

  • 3 cloves garlic, minced

  • 3 tablespoons ginger, julienned

  • 1 dried kashmiri chili, chopped, optional

  • 1 tomato, chopped, optional

  • Sea salt to taste

The garnish:

  • Cilantro leaves

  • 1 jalapeno or serrano chili, minced

  • 1 tablespoon ginger, thinly sliced

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What you do:

Soak the lentils in a large pot of cool water for a minimum of 20 minutes (optional). Rinse thoroughly until water runs clear (not optional). Return the lentils to the pot and cover with 4-5 cups water.

Bring the water to a rolling bowl, add the salt, reduce heat and simmer until lentils are tender.

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In a separate sauté pan, toast the spices until fragrant and lightly browned, about 30 seconds. Remove from heat. Allow to cool and then grind coarsely in a spice grinder or mortar and pestle.

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Make the tadka. In the same sauté pan, heat ghee or coconut oil over medium high heat. Add the onions and a pinch of salt. When onions are soft, add the garlic, ginger, chili and ground spices. Sauté about 1 minute longer.

Pour tadka into dal. Add the diced tomato, if using. Simmer an additional 10 minutes or up to 2 hours. Thin dal with additional water if needed.

Garnish with cilantro leaves and jalapeno. Serve with spiced brown basmati rice.

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Spiced Roasted Chickpeas

These spiced chickpeas are a staple of mine for a make-ahead snack on-the-go, main dish garnish, or salad topper. You can vary the spices to your taste and to pair with just about any other flavors. You can use whole and ground spices, or a combination. One of my favorite versions uses a blend of smoked paprika, cumin, garlic powder, and a pinch of cayenne that pairs nicely with Middle Eastern food, like on top of a tabouleh salad or with Indian food, adding crunch on top of a vegetable dish or dal. You can also serve them with this Shaved Brussel Sprout, Apple and Walnut Salad.

Time saver tip:  If you use a particular blend of spices often, make a batch and store it in reused spice jars. Often if I see a little bit of something left in a jar, I might add a few other spices to make a favorite blend. My funnels are re-purposed shields from my old breast pump. Great for solids! When making spice blends, I often leave off the salt so I don't end up adding extra!

Time saver tip: If you use a particular blend of spices often, make a batch and store it in reused spice jars. Often if I see a little bit of something left in a jar, I might add a few other spices to make a favorite blend. My funnels are re-purposed shields from my old breast pump. Great for solids! When making spice blends, I often leave off the salt so I don't end up adding extra!

What you need:

  • 1 ¾ cups cooked (or canned and rinsed) chickpeas*

  • 1 tablespoon oil (olive, canola oil, coconut, etc.)

  • 3 pinches sea salt or kosher salt

  • 3-4 teaspoons spices or dried herbs**

* you can make this in any quantity you desire, but I write this for 1 ¾ cups since that is what you get out of a standard can of chickpeas.

** the herbs and spices are up to you, but here are some of my favorite combinations:

  • cumin + garlic powder + smoked paprika + cayenne

  • oregano + basil + garlic powder + red pepper flakes

  • cumin + coriander + garlic powder + ginger + turmeric

  • coriander + cumin + fennel + chili powder + garlic

  • Za'atar seasoning

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Step 1:

Using a clean kitchen towel, pat the chickpeas dry. Homemade or canned work equally well (rinse canned chickpeas first.)

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Step 2:

In a bowl, mix together your selected spices.

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Step 3:

Add the olive oil to make a paste. It should pass the spoon test on left.

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Step 4:

Add the chickpeas to the bowl and toss to coat.

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Step 5:

Roast the chickpeas in one of two ways:

Spread the chickpeas in a single layer on a baking sheet and bake in oven at 425 degrees until lightly browned and toasted, about 15 minutes.

Heat a large skillet over medium high heat. Add the chickpeas and toast until lightly browned, about 7 minutes. Stir or shake the pan occasionally.