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Something Different
Week of: June 6, 2011
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Contact: Alice Bender, (202) 328-7744

Red Lentils Make a Quick Supper

By Dana Jacobi
for the American Institute for Cancer Research

Cooking from scratch is back, big time. But I still find that few people are ready to replace using canned beans with preparing dried ones. While I prefer cooking dried beans because they taste better, cost less, and I can control the sodium content, making them does take lots of clock-time. To start using dried legumes, quicker cooking lentils are ideal because they do not require soaking. The small red lentils that Indian cooks favor cook in as little as 15 minutes.

Indians eat lentils every day and have developed many ways to use and season them. Dal is one of my favorites. Often providing the main protein in a meal, dals tend to be soupy and highly seasoned, perfect to flavor a mound of rice or for scooping up with a bland chapati, Indian flatbread. Mostly, though, I serve red lentil dal-like soup, as the heart of a meatless meal or in a smaller bowl as a starter.

Prepared the Indian way, the lentils for this soup are simply boiled. Meanwhile, in a skillet you sauté tomatoes with a pungent mixture of ginger, garlic, cumin, turmeric, onions and hot chiles. Add this mixture to the cooked lentils, scraping up and stirring in all the browned bits from the bottom of the skillet, which adds even more depth to the soup's flavor.

A final note: curry leaves, a green, pointed leaf unrelated to curry powder, are widely used in Indian cooking. If you find them among the ethnic produce in your supermarket, include a handful in your soup and discover their unique, pleasingly aromatic flavor.

Red Lentil Dal

Red Lentil Dal

  • 1 cup split red lentils
  • 3 1/3 cups water, divided
  • 1 Tbsp. virgin coconut oil or canola oil
  • 2 large garlic cloves, grated
  • 2 tsp. grated fresh ginger
  • 1 green Thai or Serrano chile pepper, finely chopped, optional
  • 1 medium onion, finely chopped
  • 1 large tomato, seeded and chopped
  • 1/4 cup chopped cilantro
  • 1 tsp. ground cumin
  • 1/4 tsp. ground turmeric
  • 10 fresh curry leaves or 15 dried, optional
  • Salt and ground black pepper

In medium saucepan, cover lentils generously with water and swoosh them with your fingers. Drain and repeat until water runs clear, 3-4 times. Pour in 3 cups cold water and set over medium-high heat. When water boils, reduce heat and simmer, uncovered, skimming off any foam that forms in the first minutes. Cook until lentils are tender, 12-15 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Meanwhile, heat oil in medium skillet over medium-high heat. Add garlic, ginger, chile pepper, if using, and cook, stirring constantly, until seasonings are fragrant, 1 minute. Add onion and cook, stirring, until golden, 4 minutes. Some season paste will be sticking to bottom of pan. Add tomato, cilantro, cumin, turmeric and curry leaves, if using. Cook until tomato pieces are moist and start to break down, 2-3 minutes.

Add seasonings to cooked lentils. Off heat, pour 1/3 cup water into skillet and use wooden spatula to scrape up the deep brown layer sticking to pan, then add to lentils, stirring vigorously.

Cover lentils and simmer over medium heat for 5 minutes to meld flavors. Stir well and serve in deep bowls.

Makes 4 servings.

Per serving: 218 calories, 5 g total fat (0 g saturated fat), 33 g carbohydrate,
12 g protein, 6 g dietary fiber, 8 mg sodium.

Something Different is written by Dana Jacobi, author of 12 Best Foods Cookbook and contributor to AICR’s New American Plate Cookbook: Recipes for a Healthy Weight and a Healthy Life.


The American Institute for Cancer Research (AICR) is the cancer charity that fosters research on the relationship of nutrition, physical activity and weight management to cancer risk, interprets the scientific literature and educates the public about the results. It has contributed more than $100 million for innovative research conducted at universities, hospitals and research centers across the country. AICR has published two landmark reports that interpret the accumulated research in the field, and is committed to a process of continuous review. AICR also provides a wide range of educational programs to help millions of Americans learn to make dietary changes for lower cancer risk. Its award-winning New American Plate program is presented in brochures, seminars and on its website, AICR is a member of the World Cancer Research Fund International.

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