Food & Drink

Coconut Red Lentil Dal Recipe

Better than takeout

Every other Thursday Food52 features writer Nicholas Day — on cooking for children, and with children, and despite children. Also, occasionally, on top of them. Today the site shares a story in which Day resolves to feed his children too much dal.

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Last year I resolved to feed my children too many eggs.

I did not fail. And not just that: I also fed my children too much cereal.

My ability to meet extremely modest New Year’s resolutions is unmatched. Part of the reason you drink so much on New Year’s Eve is that you’re trying to forget everything you didn’t do. (Well, and everything you did.) It’s painful to resolve to do new things in such close proximity to the things you didn’t do. It’d be much better if we built in a month’s interval.

I’d planned to resolve to feed my children too much cereal this year, but — in an unanticipated burst of productivity — I’ve already done that. So I hereby resolve to feed my children too much dal.

In the very first Dinner vs. Child column — now a collectible item — I wrote about dal. Specifically, I wrote about lentils and about chana dal with golden raisins, which you should go make now. Serving dal to small humans may sound ambitious, but it is not: Many dals are surprisingly child-friendly if you turn down the heat. And if your children refuse to eat it, I will finish their bowls.

I found the wonderful dal recipe below in The Indian Slow Cooker, and I first made it that way. But it does not require a slow cooker: It uses masoor dal, or red lentils, which are not slow or stubborn. Both cooking methods are below. It’s the perfect dal for January — rich, homey, coconutty — and a sturdy foundation for a simple supper; it also freezes without incident.

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A Simple, Homey, Coconutty Red Lentil Dal
Makes eleven cups

3 c. red lentils (masoor dal)
1½ medium yellow or red onion, 1 coarsely chopped, ½ finely chopped
1 c. tomatoes, canned or fresh, finely chopped
½ tsp. cayenne pepper
1 tsp. ground cumin
1 tsp. ground coriander
½ tsp. ground turmeric
1 tbsp. sea salt
7 c. water
2 tbsp. vegetable oil
2 tsp. cumin seeds
1 tsp. black or yellow mustard seeds
15-20 fresh or frozen curry leaves (optional but worth seeking out)
1 14-oz. can coconut milk

1. In a large saucepan, combine the lentils, coarsely chopped onion, tomatoes, cayenne, ground cumin, coriander, turmeric, and salt. Add the water and bring to a simmer. Cook uncovered for about 30 minutes or until the lentils begin to break down.

2. In a frying pan, warm the vegetable oil over medium to high heat. Once the oil is hot, add the cumin and mustard seeds. Cover the pan and wait briefly until the mustard seeds begin to pop. Then add the finely chopped onion and the curry leaves and cook, stirring to prevent the leaves from burning, until lightly browned.

3. Add the curry leaf mixture to the lentils along with the coconut milk. Cook for another 10 minutes or so, until the flavors have melded.

Author’s note: I’ve adapted the recipe for the stove, since red lentils cook so quickly. But if you want to use a slow cooker, the recommendation is to cook the lentils on low for 5 and a half hours and then for another 30 minutes after adding the coconut milk. I’ve also dialed down the spice; feel free to add a couple of finely chopped serrano chiles at the beginning. And if you don’t have curry leaves, don’t worry; it will still taste wonderful.

Save and print the recipe at Food52.

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Photos: James Ransom / Courtesy of Food52