Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Tadka Dal

Here is Part III in my "favorite soup series." Although I've enjoyed this dal for years in restaurants, this is the first time I've made it at home. And it turned out so tasty (and such a lovely color) that I decided it's worth sharing with you all. It can easily be made on the stovetop (like I did) or in a slow cooker if you want dinner waiting for you when you get home.

Lentils are nutritionally potent lil legumes. In addition to being rich in protein, iron, potassium, copper, phosphorus, and fiber, lentils also contain a number of essential amino acids. The body can't manufacture essential amino acids on its own and relies on your diet to provide them. One of these amino acids is tryptophan, which gets a lot of blame this time of year. Tomorrow, families across the country sitting around their Thanksgiving table will yawn and blame the tryptophan in their turkey for making them sleepy. It's true that tryptophan helps the body produce niacin, which in turn helps produce serotonin, but there are a couple problems with this Turkey Makes You Want to Sleep on Your Face myth. Firstly, turkey isn't a remarkable source of tryptophan. Spinach, tamari, salmon, pork, watercress, egg whites and duck all out rank turkey in this race. Secondly, tryptophan works best on an empty stomach, so when you factor in an excess of mashed potatoes, stuffing, pie, rolls, a plethora of casseroles and some booze, you're probably just sleepy because you ate too much.

So, in the spirit of Thanksgiving I give you a recipe that is not at all relevant to tomorrow's likely menu. But you'll be thankful for it in a few days when you're sick of leftovers and want to eat something nourishing, energizing, and healthy for a change.

2 tablespoons oil
1/2 medium onion, diced
1 inch piece of fresh ginger, peeled and minced
4 cloves of garlic, peeled and pressed or minced
1 medium tomato, diced
1 tablespoon cumin seeds
1 teaspoon turmeric powder
1 teaspoon salt, more or less to taste
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper or to taste
1 teaspoon red pepper flakes
6 cups of water
1 cup split red lentils (masoor dal), picked over and washed
1 cup split green lentils or yellow split peas, picked over and washed
1/4 cup fresh cilantro, minced
additional red pepper flakes (optional)

Heat the oil over medium heat and saute the onions until translucent. Add the ginger and garlic and cook for about a minute. Add the tomato, cumin seeds, turmeric, salt, cayenne, and pepper flakes and cook for about 30 seconds until fragrant. Add the water and lentils/split peas and bring to a boil. When the soup comes to a boil, reduce heat to a low simmer and let cook for about 45 minutes or until the lentils become soft and creamy. Turn off heat, stir in half the cilantro and taste for seasonings. Serve in bowls garnished with remaining cilantro and additional red pepper flakes if desired.

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