Meatless Mondays

Culinary semester started about 5 weeks ago, and I am feeling the pressure.  Cake decorating is so much fun, but most of the skills are not coming naturally, and I am swamped with work, Client meals, and class.  I’m trying to squeeze out practice sessions of decorating skills (pun intended) at home and the blog is feeling my neglect.  Client is sending me menu requests (and recipes!) pretty regularly, so I haven’t been digging into the pile as much as I was.  Also?  90 second recipe videos are my new favorite thing, but every video recipe I make is one clipped recipe that stays in the pile!!!

So 2 new goals:  1) Start cooking what’s in the freezer.  I’ll attempt to make at least one recipe a week that uses an ingredient from the freezer (get ready for pork; we have such a stash of chops and roasts). 2) Start eating what’s already cooked in the freezer.  I recently saw an article about a family saving hundreds of dollars just by eating down the freezer.

That being said, I can’t abandon the recipe pile or the blog.  So if I can combine the freezer clean-out with the occasional recipe, I’ll be much happier.  Let’s start with one I tackled this week.  As a longtime subscriber to Cooking Light Magazine, I’ve tried to integrate their monthly habits of healthy eating (there are 12).  I love to use them as sing-songy chants as appropriate (Veggie Up! Get Moving! Eat More Fish! Breakfast Daily! Go Meatless Once a Week! Use Less Salt! Cook More at Home!)  “Meatless Mondays” has become a favorite in our house, whether or not it’s actually Monday.  Unlike many men, Husband doesn’t mind eating meatless meals on a regular basis, especially when I point out all the meatless ways to get protein and how to use fiber to fill up.   I found this recipe for Dal (lentils) in the pile, and I was inspired to make it after an Indian cooking night at a friend’s house.  Her dal was so spicy left our mouths burning, but it was so delicious that we couldn’t stop eating.

I know my clipped recipe is from the Chicago Tribune, but there was no date information on the page I trimmed.  An internet search uncovers an article about Diwali with several recipes (2004).  While the ingredient list and procedure is the same, the internet recipe serves 4 and my clipping serves 10.  The link is for 4 servings (perhaps these are meal servings and mine was originally intended as a side dish?), but I’ve typed the recipe as it was originally printed.

Preparation time: 40 minutes
Soaking time: 8 hours or overnight
Cooking time: 1 hour, 45 minutes
Yield: 10 servings

To make this dish vegan, substitute vegan margarine for the butter and cashew cream or coconut creamer for the dairy.  Ghee is a clarified butter; you may sub with a vegetable oil.


1 3/4 cups whole, dried black lentils (urad dal), picked over, washed
1/2 cup dried kidney beans, picked over, washed
8 cups water (for soaking)
1 teaspoon turmeric powder
2 bay leaves
1 stick cinnamon (3 inches long)
3 whole cloves
10 cups water (plus more if needed, for cooking)
1 medium yellow or red onion, coarsely chopped
1 piece (1-inch long) ginger root, peeled, coarsely chopped
4 cloves garlic
1/4 cup ghee (clarified butter) or grapeseed oil
1 teaspoon cumin seeds
1 teaspoon cumin powder
1 teaspoon coriander powder
1 teaspoon red chili powder or cayenne
1 to 3 Thai, serrano, or cayenne chiles, chopped
1 can (6 oz) tomato paste, no salt added
1/4 cup water
4 teaspoons coarse sea salt
1/4 teaspoon  ground cardamom seeds, ground
1 teaspoon fenugreek leaves, crushed lightly
1/4 cup half and half or whipping cream
2 heaping tablespoons minced cilantro

1. Soak lentils and kidney beans in a bowl in about 8 cups of water overnight. If you’re pressed for time, use boiling water to soak the, for at least 4 hours. (This might increase your cooking time 15-20 minutes). Drain and discard the water when finished soaking.

2.  Put the drained lentils and beans, turmeric, bay leaves, cinnamon, cloves and 10 cups water in a deep, heavy bottomed pot or Dutch oven; heat to a boil. Reduce heat; simmer partially covered, about 1 1/2 hours.

3. Meanwhile, grind the onion, ginger, and garlic into a watery paste in a food processor. Heat ghee or oil in an 8 inch skillet over medium-high heat; add cumin seeds and cook until they sizzle and turn reddish brown, about 40 seconds.  Add the onion-ginger-garlic paste.  Mix well; cook until the mixture browns slightly, about 4 minutes.

4. Add cumin and coriander powders, red chili or cayenne, and fresh chiles.  Mix well; cook 40 seconds.

5. Add tomato paste, 1/4 cup water, and salt.  Cook another few minutes, mixing occasionally.  Use a little more water if necessary to keep mixture from drying out.

6. Add mixture to the pot of cooked lentils and beans.  Mix well. Add ground cardamom and fenugreek. Simmer 15 minutes.

7. Add cream or half and half; cook through, 1-2 minutes. Remove whole spices. Garnish with cilantro. Serve with brown or basmati rice, naan, or roti.

Nutrition information per serving:  226 calories, 7 g fat, 4 g saturated fat, 18 mg cholesterol, 31 g carbohydrates, 12g protein, 1,141 mg sodium, 11 g fiber

I stuck pretty closely to this recipe.  My changes were as follows:  I used green lentils instead of black.  I only pre-soaked the lentils, not kidney beans, and threw a can of kidney beans into the mixture at step 5.  I also threw in half a can of chickpeas that were leftover from the Barbecue Sweet Potatoes with Chickpeas and Arugula I made the other day.  I was terrified at the thought of using an entire teaspoon of cayenne pepper, so I opted for the chili powder.  I used 2 serranos, and pulled out most of the seeds and ribs in the interest of preserving my taste buds.  I cut the salt to a teaspoon and a half (which is already over 3,000 mg– I’m not sure how their published sodium count is so low), figuring we could add more at the table if needed.  I have been tempted in multiple spice shops to pick up fenugreek, but never actually have.  I thought about subbing oregano, but while a few internet sources suggested that toasted mustard seed would be okay, most said there is no substitute for the crushed fenugreek leaves, so I just omitted the ingredient.

I realized after the lentils had cooked for an hour that the water amount was meant for lentils AND kidney beans.  So my finished consistency was more like a soup than a stew.  Not watery, but not as thick as I was expecting. Husband very kindly said he liked the thinner texture, but I wonder how the outcome would have differed if I’d reduced the water or used dried kidney beans.


Verdict:  Delicious, but needs some tweaking, all based on my adjustments.  I would say at least another 1/2 teaspoon of salt (2 teaspoons total).  The dal was a little flat in that respect.  The tomatoes and the cinnamon gave it a slight sweetness, and the chili powder added a smoky flavor that was great.  The texture of the lentils was perfect– I was afraid after all that cooking they’d be mush, yet they kept their shape.  But…I found myself looking for more heat.  To me, it was only slightly spicy.  Husband didn’t think it was spicy at all, and his heat tolerance is far beyond mine.  So if I made this again, I would try using 1/2 chili powder and 1/2 cayenne, and maybe leave a few more seeds in the serrano peppers.  This recipe has a lot of prep work and many steps, but I think it’s worth it.  I served the dal with naan and did a lot of dipping and scooping while I ate.  It easily made a meal, but could be a tasty side dish as well.


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