In the last few years, there’s been increased media coverage about the rising cost of food, the negative environmental and health effects of eating too much animal protein, and the importance of whole foods and fiber in our diets. It’s actually surprising to me that more people aren’t looking to beans and lentils as an easy solution. These members of the legume family are loaded with protein, fiber, trace nutrients and come in a variety of shapes, flavors and sizes. Furthermore, they’re totally cheapsville. A serving of beans or lentils will cost you around 10 – 50 cents. Compare that with the even lowest quality meat that you are willing to eat. Also since legumes usually come dried, canned or frozen, they last in your pantry for months to years, stretching your buck even further.
But you still aren’t cooking them at home. Why, friends? Because they take time? You don’t know how? You’re afraid to eat them? They’re un-American? Push those worries aside. Today you’re learning how to make an easy, knockout lentil dish.
I’m taking inspiration from some of the fabulous lentil dishes in India called dal. One of the most basic dals uses split and husked mung beans and is called moong dal (see the pic below). This dal is considered very nutritious and easy to digest–so much so that it’s often given to people when they are recovering from an illness like the stomach flu. Most dals are prepared the same way: you soak the lentils, then boil them in water, and then flavor the cooked lentils with a spiced oil. The final texture can be anywhere from a thick puree to a thin soup. It’s an easy process, but it does require planning. I suggest soaking the lentils the night before you want to make this dish. Then the lentils need to cook for about an hour, unattended, and then finishing them with the oil takes only 2 minutes. Lentils also soak up a good amount of salt (just like soups), so don’t be afraid to be generous with your salting. Lemon and cilantro are classic finishing flavors to many dals; here, I’ve amped up the quantity to make this dish really pop with bright flavors.
Each 1 cup serving of this Lemon Cilantro Moong Dal (from 1/4 cup of uncooked lentils) has about 170 calories, 14 grams of protein and 16 grams of fiber (about 61% of the recommended daily allowance) and each serving of the lentils cost 20 cents. You can round out the meal with bread or rice and a side salad. Leftover dal makes an easy, energizing breakfast as well.
The dish on the left shows what dry moong dal looks like when you buy it. The dish on the right shows what it looks like after soaking overnight.
Lemon Cilantro Moong Dal
Makes 4 1-cup servings
1 cup of moong dal (split and husked mung beans)
1 tablespoon of butter
2 teaspoons of olive oil
1/4 teaspoon of mustard seeds
1/4 teaspoon of cumin seeds
1/2 teaspoon of turmeric
pinch of asofetida or garlic powder
1 1/2 teaspoons of salt
3 tablespoons of lemon juice, from about 1 1/2 lemons
1/2 cup of finely chopped cilantro leaves and stems (not roots)
1. In a fine mesh strainer, thoroughly rinse the moong dal in running water until the water runs clear. Sift through the lentils to make sure there are no stones, husks, or dirt. Put the rinsed lentils in a bowl, cover with several inches of water and let soak overnight on the counter or inside the refrigerator if your kitchen is hot.
2. The next day, drain the lentils and give them a quick rinse. Put the lentils in a medium-sized pot and cover with 3 inches of water. Bring to a boil and reduce to a simmer, and let this cook for about 1 hour. Skim off any foam that forms on the top and add more water if necessary, but mostly you can leave it alone. You want the lentils to get fully softened (with no grittiness) and start to fall apart. Then give them a mash with the back of a ladle or an immersion blender to make a smoother puree. You should end up with about 4 cups of a medium-bodied puree. Add more liquid or cook longer to adjust the thickness to your liking.
3. Once the lentils are cooked, take another medium-sized pot and melt the butter and oil over medium heat. Then add the mustard seeds and cumin seeds, stirring, and let these cook for about 30 seconds until they start to sizzle and pop. Quickly add the turmeric and asofetida or garlic powder. Then immediately add the cooked lentils and stir to flavor them with the spices. Add the 1 1/2 teaspoons of salt and let the mixture come up to a simmer. Turn off the heat and add the lemon juice and cilantro. Taste to see if it needs more salt or lemon juice and then serve.