I have been worrying about this for over 30 years, and I am no closer to a solution. Red, or actually salmon colored skinned lentils turn yellow with cooking. Well-browned onions are, well, brown. I can't imagine beets doing anything for this dish. Part of the answer may lie in the semantic range of the word adom, which may only approximate that of the color red. My college Latin teacher wrote her master's thesis on color terms across a number of languages, particularly the Romance languages, English, Japanese and classical Latin and Greek, and used to talk all the time about how variable color terms are across cultures. I remember teaching English to Cambodian refugees in the Bronx in the early 1980s, and how they gave me a hard time when I said that an apple was red, and I am talking about a Red Delicious or Macintosh, not a Granny Smith. The redness of the apple seemed axiomatic to me, but they would not be convinced, and saw more green, yellow or even brown.
So who knows what made the red stuff red, and if it was even what we would call red. But, if you want to make the recipe for yourself, here is a recipe for lentil stew:
Lentil Stew (not really red)
- 2 tablespoons or more of olive oil
- 1 teaspoon whole cumin seeds
- 1 large onion, diced
1 cup lentils, preferably French green lentils or whole masoor dal, washed well
- Salt and pepper, butter and lemon to taste
- Browned onions (optional but very desirable -- you will be tempted to sell your birthright too if you smell these cooking): Saute 1 large onion, sliced in thin half moons and lightly salted, in plenty of olive oil in a non stick skillet until well browned. It takes time, so be patient, and be careful so they crisp without burning. Start on high heat and turn it down as they color and shrivel.
- Chopped vegetable salad: cukes, tomatoes, radishes, scallions, green peppers diced fine and either mixed together or kept separately.
- Plain boiled brown or white rice and/or pita bread.
- Cubed feta cheese
- Tahini sauce: smash a clove of garlic with a little salt and mash to a puree.Mix in 1/4 cup of tahini. Mix in 1 tablespoon of lemon juice. It will get tough. Add water very slowly, until it gets tougher and then thins out to the texture of thick cream. It will take most likely between 1/2 and 3/4 cup of water.
- Heat olive oil on medium. Add cumin seed and saute until they turn a few shades darker. Be careful not to brown.
- Add onions and salt lightly, and saute until light brown.
- Add lentils, saute with onions for a minute, and add 3 cups of water.
- Simmer until tender, about 1/2 hour. Boil off extra water or add more if necessary.
- Add salt and pepper to taste and stir in a little butter and lemon.
- Serves about 4 with the garnishes.