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Seasoned to Taste: Simplest Dal and Curried Rice and Red Lentils

Seasoned to Taste: Simplest Dal and Curried Rice and Red Lentils

Let low-cost legumes keep you healthy and well fed.

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Taking your pulse is a simple, low-cost, no-fuss way of keeping yourself healthy. And well fed.

No, we’re not talking about checking to monitor your heart rate during a workout. This pulse is more commonly known in the U.S. as the legume. The word pulse derives from the Latin “puls” meaning pottage, which relates to the French “potage,” meaning something cooked in a pot. Pottage, often based on cereal grains, was the basic food of the middle ages, but cultures around the globe for centuries before and after have learned the wisdom of having something in the pot.

Particularly if that something is a pulse. The seeds of legume plants are packed with protein and essential amino acids, and this nutritional value remains largely intact when the seeds are dried. And since drying is the simplest way of preserving all food, it’s no wonder pulses have been planted, preserved and prepared by people in perpetuity. Like many leguminous crops, pulses play a key role in crop rotation because of their ability to fix nitrogen, as in the old nursery rhyme, “oats, peas, beans, and barley grow.” Peas — black-eyed, chick, cow, garden, protein and pigeon — are all pulses. And the beans are even more various: azuki, black gram, broad, horse, kidney, lima, mung, navy, pinto, rice, scarlet runner, moth and tepary.

Of all the pulses, perhaps the easiest and quickest to cook are lentils. Like all pulse or legume seeds, lentils grow double in form and split easily when the skin is rubbed off. These smaller seeds make for speedy cooking, which may be why dal, split lentils cooked with a variety of spices, is a basic staple in India. Quick cooking means less spent on fuel, so dal saves money and time. In the U.S., lentils are cheap, easy to find and a great pantry staple.

Here are a couple of recipes that can get you in the habit of taking your pulse. A variation of Mark Bittman’s “Simplest Dal” recipe cooks up in no time and fills the house with amazing aromas and your palate with plenty of pleasure. Serve hot or cold, with rice or in a wrap or on a bed of greens; your imagination’s the limit. For a one-pot wonder perhaps a bit closer to the ancient “pottage,” try Bittman’s Curried Lentils and Rice. Buy spices and the lentils in bulk and the savings will lower your blood pressure and your pulse!

Simplest Dal

1 cup dried red lentils, washed and picked over

2 tablespoons minced peeled fresh ginger

1 tablespoon minced garlic

4 cardamom pods

1 tablespoon mustard seeds

2 cloves

1 teaspoon ancho chile powder

1 teaspoon cracked black pepper

kosher salt

chopped cilantro

Combine lentils, ginger, garlic, cardamom, mustard, cloves, chile powder and pepper in a saucepan and add water to cover by about 1 inch. Cook at a steady simmer until the lentils are very soft, 20 to 30 minutes. Salt the lentils as they soften.

Remove the cloves and cardamom pods (you can eat the cardamom pods if you want). Adjust seasoning to taste, then stir in cilantro.

Source: Adapted by Lucy at from Mark Bittman

Curried Rice and Red Lentils

2 tablespoons vegetable oil

1 large onion, chopped

1 tablespoon curry powder

3 cups water

3/4 cup red lentils (also called dal)

1 cup long grain rice (for South Beach Diet, use Uncle Ben’s Converted Rice, which is the lowest glycemic type of white rice)

salt, pepper to taste

1-2 tablespoons melted butter (optional)

chopped parsley or cilantro, for garnish (optional)

Put the oil in a large, heavy pan with a tight lid and heat for one minute. Add onion and saute 3-5 minutes, until starting to brown on the edges. Add curry powder and saute 1 minute, then add water and bring to a boil. Add lentils and rice, bring back to a boil, then lower heat to a steady simmer and cover.

Cook 20 minutes, or until lentils are tender. (Bittman says if the liquid is not all absorbed, boil off the excess, but after 20 minutes all my water had been absorbed.) Season with salt and pepper, then stir in the melted butter just before serving. Garnish with chopped parsley or cilantro if desired. Makes 4-6 servings.

Source: adapted from Mark Bittman, “The Best Recipes in the World.”

Lynne Ireland lives to eat and welcomes comments and questions from others who do (or don’t). Contact her at


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