"Expect a new heat record to be set today." "Today will be grey and punctuated by thunderstorms." "A beautiful day, perfect for being outside." In July and August, I expect to hear all of these weather forecasts. Whichever it is, eating is necessary and dal, the Indian lentil dish, is a perfect choice.
As Indian cooks know, spiced foods help us feel cooler in hot weather. If the weather is rainy and cool, dal's spices also help to drive out the chill. Although simmering this pot of lentils barely heats up the kitchen, it fills the house with spicy fragrance that stimulates the appetite. Plus red lentils fall apart so quickly that you spend little time in the kitchen.
Many Indians eat dal every day as a valued source of protein. Red lentil dal is particularly easy to make. Like other lentils, they do not need soaking, and depending on how much liquid is used, this dish can be served as a light yet nourishing soup or be cooked down until thick enough to scoop up with pita bread. While the dal cooks, there is enough time to assemble a cooling garnish of yogurt and chopped vegetables so you can have everything on the table in 30 minutes.
To turn this dal into a meal, I top it with a mini-salad of chopped cucumber, scallions, dill and a dollop of yogurt, then serve it with pita bread that has been wrapped in foil and warmed in the oven. If you prefer, you can toast the pita in wedges until crisp and also increase the yogurt to a generous quarter-cup.
Indian Dal with Yogurt and Cucumbers
•3/4 cup red lentils
• 1/2 cup chopped onion
• 2 cloves garlic, chopped
• 1 tsp. grated ginger
• 2 tsp. garam masala *
•1 tsp. ground cumin
• 1 Tbsp. canola oil
• 3 cups hot water
• Salt to taste
• 1/2 cup chopped seeded cucumber
• 1/3 cup chopped scallions, green part only
• 1/4 cup chopped fresh dill
• 4 Tbsp. reduced-fat Greek yogurt
• 4 whole-wheat pita breads, warmed
*Note: If you do not have garam masala, use 1/2 tsp. each ground cardamom, coriander and cumin, 1/4 tsp. each ground cinnamon and black pepper, and 1/8 tsp. ground cloves.
In large bowl, place lentils. Fill bowl with cold water. Using your fingers, stir lentils 3-4 times, then drain. Repeat 2-3 times, until water runs nearly clear when drained. Transfer lentils to large saucepan. Add onion, garlic, ginger, garam masala, cumin and oil. Stir to coat ingredients with oil.
Set saucepan over medium-high heat and cook, stirring occasionally, until spices are fragrant, about 4 minutes. Add hot water, bring to boil, cover, and simmer until lentils are soft, 20 minutes; dal will thicken as it cools. Uncover and pour dal into wide, shallow bowl. Set aside until lukewarm, 20 minutes. Season to taste with salt.
To serve, divide dal among 4 small soup bowls. Top each with one-fourth of cucumber, scallions and dill, plus 1 tablespoon yogurt. Cut pitas into 6 wedges. Set each bowl on dinner plate, surround with pita wedges and serve.
If desired, dal can be covered and refrigerated up to 3 days. Before serving, warm in microwave or in covered pot over medium heat, stirring often.
Makes 4 servings.
Nutritional information per serving: 260 calories, 5 g total fat, (0 g saturated fat), 40 g carbohydrate, 15 g protein, 8 g dietary fiber, 135 mg sodium.