I have four different types of lentils in my pantry, plus a supply of yellow split peas. But since most of them are not used in Indian cooking, I find myself making substitutions quite frequently. Such as here, where the recipe called for split green lentils, but I used the standard supermarket brown lentils and it was very tasty anyway. I’ve made it a few times already this way; eventually I will get around to trying it as written.
Sweet-Tart Lentils with Mustard
(adapted from 660 Curries)
1 cup lentils, rinsed and checked for stones*
3 cups water
1 tablespoon neutral oil or ghee
1 teaspoon mustard seeds
2 teaspoons cumin seeds
2 teaspoons kosher or coarse sea salt [less if you’re using table salt]
1/2 teaspoon cayenne/lal mirch
1/4 teaspoon ground turmeric
1/4 teaspoon asefetida
1 14.5oz can diced tomatoes [or 1 large tomato finely chopped]
1 tablespoon crumbled jaggery or firmly packed brown sugar
1/4 cup chopped cilantro
*recipe calls for split green and I used whole brown; go with what you’ve got and adjust cooking times as necessary.
Notes: Decide first whether you’re going to add the sauce to the lentils or the lentils to the sauce. I find it easier to add the lentils to the sauce, but that’s a quirk of my cookware and you might decide it’s easier the other way. Whichever way you go, use the bigger pot as the destination and you’ll be fine.
Mis en place is important here, since you’re adding ingredients in rapid succession that will burn if left unattended while you hunt down the next one. I’ve grouped things in the order in which they’ll be used.
Start the lentils in a saucepan with the water; cook at a boil until barely tender (time dependant upon what type lentil used – split greens take about ten minutes, whole browns twice that). Skim foam as needed.
While the lentils are going, start the sauce. Heat the oil in a pan with a cover and toast the mustard seeds, covering the pan once the seeds start popping like popcorn and waiting for them to stop (30 seconds-ish).
Add the cumin seeds and stir; they’ll brown almost immediately – a few seconds.
Add the salt, cayenne, turmeric, and asefetida. Cook for a few seconds (and try not to cough on the fumes).
Add the tomato, brown sugar, and cilantro. Simmer, uncovered, for 2-3 minutes.
Once the lentils are barely tender, combine them with the sauce. Stir and simmer, covered, for 5-7 minutes. Make sure the lentils are cooked through, but not overcooked.
My frozen cilantro again, and a sign that I need to go buy more lentils. And, once again with feeling: mis en place is your friend.
The tomato sauce. plus cilantro cubes.
Combined and ready to simmer, sort of. I combined them early (intentionally) and so I left enough liquid to make sure nothing dried out while the lentils finished up.