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Butternut Squash and Red Lentil Dal

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Jul. 23rd, 2010 | 06:51 pm
location: Cambridge, UK
posted by: susannahclark in cookery

This is a recipe I got from mostlyeating.com. Here's a lovely definition of comfort food - “food that hugs you from the inside”. Sums up this kind of food just right doesn’t it?

Dal is very special class of comfort food; it feels like a comfort food (all soft and squishy), it tastes like a comfort food (soothing but moreish) and you can dip your choice of bread into it or shovel with a spoon, bowl to chin. All good stuff. But unlike other comfort foods, dal need not have a touch of cheese, butter, chocolate or cream to their name. In fact they are positively brimming with nutritional benefits, especially when you combine them with a vegetable as in this butternut squash and red lentil variation.

The cinnamon, turmeric and cumin lend a very gentle touch here, imparting aroma to the lentils and squash rather than spice. A tarka is simply a garnish, in this case slow cooked red onion, fiery chilli and garlic. Tarka are generally made using ghee, a saturated fat heavy clarified butter, replaced here by olive oil.

All of those enthusiastic things I said about beans being “agriculturally sustainable and nutritionally multi-tasking” hold true for lentils and I plan to get to know them even better this year. Red lentils are a forgiving place to start if cooking with lentils is new to you, disintegrating into the requisite creamy puree whatever you do to them.

Recipe for Butternut Squash and Red Lentil Dal

Note: a medium squash cut in half takes about 35 minutes in a medium oven. Allow to cool very slightly then scoop out the flesh from the skin. Any reasonably firm winter squash will work.

Makes a big batch

For the dal
1 medium squash, roasted and deseeded
300g red lentils, rinsed and checked over
2cm piece of fresh ginger, peeled
1 tsp ground cumin
half a tsp turmeric
A small stick of cinnamon
1 litre hot water

For the tarka (optional)
2 red onions, thinly sliced
2-3 tbsp olive oil
2 cloves of garlic, thinly sliced
1 red large chilli, cut into thin strips

Put the cumin, turmeric, cinnamon, lentils and hot water into a saucepan. Grate the ginger straight into the pan.

Simmer on a low heat for about 30 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Meanwhile, make the tarka if you are having it. Heat the olive oil in a frying pan and add the onions. Cook the onions on a very low heat until golden and caramelised.

Once the lentils have absorbed all of the water and disintegrated, fish out the cinnamon stick and discard.

Stir the roast squash into the lentils and give it a good stir with a wooden spoon to break up any lumps.

Add the garlic and chilli to the tarka and cook on a low heat for another 10 minutes, while the dal warms through thoroughly.

Serve the dal in warm bowls with spoonful of the tarka on top to garnish.

Susannah's extra little tip: wrap the caramelised onion in kitchen towel to soak away most of the oil - I usually do this twice just to be sure.

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