I’m a big fan of warm, mushy-but-not-slimy comfort foods. Any mashed potatoes that I’ve ever come into contact with while having access to a spoon, a fork, or – in truly desperate situations – just a finger could affirm that much, but all traces of them would have disappeared by now. Same goes for refried bean-filled burritos. So when I happen upon a warm, mushy, comfort food that’s actually healthy, I get a little obsessed. Just ask lentils.
These babies have been my go-to food for those many cold, grey, and just plain sad- and grumpy-looking days in San Francisco from November through April. They’ve not only warmed my belly and my spirit along with it, but also have kept me eating healthily and feeling full (both of which kept me from digging into too many bowls of mashed potatoes and mac and cheese this winter).
But enough of the healthy-and-filling yada-yada-ing … these lentils are also yummy! The kale basically melts into the lentils, while the jalapeño adds a little peppery bite. Mixed with the tempering oil, the lentils take on the smokey flavor of cumin and the spicy-sweet flavor of paprika. Next time, for a bit more freshness and bite, I would definitely add a chopped jalapeño – maybe even some chopped ginger! – to the tempering oil.
As for serving suggestions, I had myself a bit of a protein and fiber bonanza and served this alongside the quinoa-crusted chicken with hot sauce (Delicious! Healthy but incredibly satisfying – physically and otherwise.). However, the lentil dish also stands on its own, or with a cucumber and tomato salad tossed in a lemon-cumin vinaigrette. Because they take a little while to cook but are basically hands-off while they’re boiling on the stove, I frequently make a batch that’s enough for 5 days’ worth of lunches, and store them in individually portioned containers for use throughout the week.
Kale and Jalapeño Red Lentil Dal with Cumin-Red Pepper Tempering Oil
As I said, I’m a big fan of mush, and have been known to create a thicker, mushier lentil dish by mashing some of the lentils (use a spoon or a potato masher) towards the end of the cooking time to get more of a mashed potato-ish consistency. Otherwise, if you’re into perkier lentils, cook them for closer to the 30 minute mark than the 45 minute mark (but taste them before you take them off the heat to make sure they’re not too perky).
1/2 c. red lentils
3 c. water
1 c. kale, finely chopped
1/4 c. tomato, diced
2 jalapeños (or Serrano peppers), minced
1/2 tsp. turmeric
1 Tbsp. oil (or butter)
1/2 tsp. cumin
1 tsp. paprika
1/4 tsp. red pepper flakes or cayenne pepper, or another chopped jalapeño
juice of 1/2 lemon
salt to taste
2 Tbsp. cilantro, finely chopped
In medium pot, bring lentils and water to a boil. Add kale, tomato, peppers, and turmeric. Reduce heat to low, and put lid on the pot (but tilted slightly to allow some steam to escape while cooking). Simmer for 30 to 45 minutes, until lentils reach desired level of softness. Note: Check lentils in 15 minute increments, and add 1/2 cup of extra water if needed.
Meanwhile, 5 minutes before lentils are done, heat oil in separate small pan. Add cumin, and fry 30 seconds, until fragrant. Add paprika and (if desired) either jalapeño, red pepper flakes or cayenne, and fry for another 30 seconds. Add lemon juice.
Taste lentils, and add salt to taste. Then, either stir the spiced tempering oil into the lentils, or serve lentils with tempering oil drizzled over the top. Sprinkle cilantro on top, and serve hot.