This recipe is from my friend Robina’s food blog. (Go over and tell her to start posting again, would ya?) With her permission, I am copying and pasting it here, so my lentil loving readers can benefit (I know you’re out there). It’s an authentic Pakistani lentil and rice dish, and we loved it. Asher gave it two mushy lentil-covered thumbs up. The only changes I made are to use olive oil or butter/ghee for the fat and to substitute homemade chicken stock (if I have it) for the water. We enjoyed it over rice, but I can’t wait to have it with naan.
spicy lentils with spinach and potatoes
lentils and rice was one of my favourite meals growing up (though i constantly complained about the zeera, or cumin seeds, with which my aunties liberally cooked). my aunties are not ones to write down recipes, so all of my pakistani-style cooking has been a process of trial and error based on what i observed over the years. i think this comes pretty close, though there are slight variations because of my eternal desire to incorporate something green in most meals paired with another desire, on friday night, to get rid of same baby yukon gold potatoes i had lying around.
unsurprisingly, perhaps, i too have grown to love cumin, so you’ll find much of it in this recipe. when my youngest sister tahira walked into the house, she exclaimed, “it smells like upstairs!” (all of my aunties and uncles used to live above my parents, and a few still do). mission accomplished?
(note: all of the spices in this recipe seem readily available these days, even in the “international” aisle of supermarkets. otherwise you should scout out to see if there are any asian/indian markets near you. you can also substitute ground spices for the whole ones i have listed below, but you’ll have to play a bit with the measurements.)
this is a huge recipe that served four people (some of whom had two servings), and still created leftovers. you may want to halve it.
2 medium onions
3 cloves garlic
1″ piece fresh ginger root, peeled
3 tbs canola oil*
1 tsp whole cumin seeds
1/2 tsp. whole coriander seeds
1/4 tsp. whole mustard seeds
1/4 tsp. whole cloves
1/8-1/4 tsp cayenne pepper, depending on your taste
1/2 tsp. turmeric
1/2 tsp. garam masala
2 cups lentils
5 1/2 cups water
1/2 lb baby yukon gold potatoes, cubed (or any other potato you prefer. i like the creamy aspect of yukon golds.)
5oz (one bag) baby spinach, or to your preference (i have to say i used a little less than one bag this time around, but i definitely could have used the whole bag)
salt to taste
1. chop onions, garlic, and ginger. because i am lazy, i often just dump everything in my food processor. saves time and tears.
2. put two tbs. canola oil in a medium-large pot. heat over medium-high heat and add chopped onions/garlic/ginger. saute until soft and browned (approx. 8-10 minutes).
3. while the onions are cooking, i often toast the cumin seeds in a dry pan, but this won’t make or break the dish.
4. also while the onions are cooking, combine the cumin, coriander and mustard seeds in a mortar and pestle, or do as i do — add to a coffee grinder! we have two in our house and one is exclusively for things like spices, flax seeds, etc. it’s very useful! grind the seeds together.
5. once the onions are cooked, lower the flame. at this point i tend to add a third tbs. of oil, but you may also use water. then add the cumin/coriander/mustard mixture, the cloves, the cayenne, the turmeric, and the garam masala to the onions. this is tricky and you’ll want to be stirring continuously to ensure the spices don’t burn or stick to the pot. you can add another tbs. of water if necessary. fry for about two minutes.
6. add water, lentils, potatoes, and salt to taste. bring to a boil, cover, and simmer for about 45 minutes to an hour, or until lentils are tender. check on the pot a few times, as you may want or need to add another 1/2cup or so of water.
7. in the last ten minutes of cooking, add baby spinch and stir in.
serve with nan, roti, or brown basmati rice!
rating: well, based on the reactions of my testers (andy, nicky, and my sister tahira), i’ll give this one four stars. nicky reaffirmed my hunch that the recipe needed a more powerful onion presence. next time i make this, i’ll have to add a third SLICED (rather than minced) onion, either at the beginning with the rest of the base, or fried up toward the end of the recipe and served on top of the lentils. either way, this was quite delicious. let me know what you think if you try it!
* it would perhaps be more authentic to use ghee, or clarified butter, here, but as my aunties often use various oils here in the u.s. as well, i figure it’s okay. you could also use vegetable oil if you prefer.