Thursday, August 9, 2012

Lentil Salad, Southern-Indian style

This incentive for this recipe was to do something with the half package of precooked lentils that we had left over from the pre-Tisha B'Av meal.  The package said they would only last for two days, so we had to act fast.  If you have the ingredients on hand, this is a cinch.  Some of the ingredients are optional, so I also suggest alternatives for a slightly less "authentic" salad, though there is nothing authentic about this in the first place.  In particular, I encourage the substitution of garlic for the hing/asafoetida, which is a sulfurous resin used by Vaishnava Hindus who, for reasons that I have never been able to understand, do not consume onions or garlic.  If you have it on hand and have the taste for it, the hing is great, but otherwise you should be proud to prepare this with garlic.

This recipe is based on poriyals, a group of Southern Indian dishes in which vegetables are stir-fried with mustard seeds and other ingredients. I made this with about 2 cups of leftover cooked lentils, which made a nice-sized side dish for 4 or a vegetarian main dish for 2.  You could easily double the recipe.  If you don't have cooked lentils on hand, boil one cup of dry French green lentils (or smaller black Beluga lentils) in a lot of unsalted water.  It should take about 20-25 minutes, but start tasting them before, since you want them cooked through but firm.  However, the precooked lentils are great and the dish requires no cooking except for the spices at the end. 

Lentil Salad, Southern-Indian style

  • 2 cups cooked French lentils (see above)
  • juice of 1 lime
  • salt
  • 1/4 cup grated coconut (ideally fresh or defrosted frozen, otherwise dry, reconstituted briefly in hot water or in the microwave)
  • 1/2 cup chopped fresh coriander
  • 1-2 tablespoons oil (ideally light sesame oil, otherwise vegetable oil -- see below)
  • 1 tablespoon brown mustard seeds
  • 1 teaspoon urad dal (hulled, split white dal, optional but highly desirable)
  • 15-25 fresh curry leaves (optional but highly desirable)
  • 1 thin hot green chili, sliced (leave the seeds in for heat)
  • 1/8 teaspoon hing or 1 clove garlic, peeled and chopped
  • 1 tablespoon sesame seeds (ideally raw, but roasted is ok, optional)
  1. Put the lentils in a serving bowl, mix in the lime juice (use a bit more if you want) and season with salt.  Taste, because precooked lentils are already salted.
  2. Top with the coriander, and then the coconut.
  3. Have all of your other ingredients ready, since it will go very fast.
  4. Heat the oil in a small skillet on high heat. (I actually use a jezve, a Turkish coffee pot.) Add the mustard seeds, and when they pop, add the dal and cook until they just begin to color lightly, about 30 seconds to a minute. Don't let them brown since they will cook further.
  5.  If using, add the hing and let sizzle a few seconds and then add the curry leaves, chili and garlic (if using), stirring after each addition.   Turn the heat down until the garlic looses its raw aroma, less than one minute.  Stir in the sesame seeds and cook briefly until they being to color, also less than a minute.
  6. Pour the oil and spices over the coriander and coconut, and serve.  It can wait up to an hour without going in the refrigerator.  When serving, toss the salad together at the table to mix in the spiced oil.
  7. For a slightly less attractive, but tastier dish, add the spiced oil to the lentils and mix well before topping with the coriander and coconut. 
  8. Serves 2 as a main or 4 as a side or appetizer.
The oil:  The classic Southern Indian cooking oil is sesame oil.  Unlike East Asian oils, it is not roasted.  It is a yellow color with a nutty aroma and it can withstand a bit more heat,.  The best choice is a sesame oil from an Indian grocery, otherwise an unroasted sesame oil which should be available in the health food store or in the health food section of a supermarket.  An interesting choice would be coconut oil which is very typical of the cooking of Kerala, but since it congeals at room temperature, you would have to serve it on warm, freshly cooked lentils and serve it at once rather than letting it sit.  You can also use a regular vegetable oil other than olive oil.

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