August 29, 2011

Ethiopian-style red lentils

Ethiopian-style red lentils


Masala mix

These red lentils are adapted and modified from a Saveur recipe. While the preparation was simple, the homemade spice mix the Saveur recipe called for had some hard-to-find ingredients, and called (optionally) for spice-infused clarified butter. The spice mix, with ingredients that you can find, is easy to make with a spice grinder, or mortar and pestle. I absolutely love the home-made masala (masala = blend of spices) mix used in these red lentils - whether they are authentically Ethiopian is hard to tell. I think they certainly tasted more Indian (perhaps because my pantry is stocked with Indian spices?). The lentils took their sweet time cooking on the stove top, which as the aromas of this dish waft around the house, you'll stomach will grumble in eager anticipation. If you have left overs they will be spicier the next day.

Clarified butter, also known as ghee, is made by heating up regular butter over a low-medium heat, and then skimming off the milk solids which collect at the top. This leaves a clear golden liquid, that can be heated to a higher temperature, or has a higher smoke point (the smoke point is the physical temperature that hot cooked fat reaches before it starts smoking). I substituted regular butter, as butter always tastes delicious, and added in a few of the spices to the red lentils.

Here's my take, this serves 4; can be served over rice, or with dosa to mimic injera, or pita or naan bread. The red lentils are called masoor dhal or red lentils. While lentils don't need any soaking, I soak the lentils while I'm prepping the rest of the ingredients to soften them up. The butter in this imparts a lovely flavor, but can be omitted (such as using cooking spray) or replaced with oil, 1 tbsp is fine. Use as many of the spices you can find, and if you can't find them, just leave them out. Garnish with some fresh chopped onions and a squeeze of lemon. 

Ethiopian-style red lentils
Serves: 4
Ingredients, listed in order of use:

1 cup of long grain rice, cooked according to package directions (optional)
1 cup of red lentils or masoor dhal
2 tbsp butter, divided; stir in remaining 1 tbsp just before serving
1 onion, chopped fine
3-4 whole cardamom pods (optional)
3 cloves garlic, chopped
1/2 of a red bell pepper, chopped fine
2 and 1/2 tbsp home-made masala mix, recipe below
1 tomato, chopped
salt to taste
3 and 1/2 cups water
1/4 tsp fenugreek powder (optional)

  1. If serving with rice, cook and prepare according to package directions.
  2. Next, rinse the red lentils under water. Put it in a large bowl and cover with water. Let it soak while you prepare the rest of the ingredients.
  3. Heat up a large soup pot over medium-high heat. Add 1 tbsp butter, or oil if using, and once the butter is melted and slightly foamy, turn the heat down to medium and add in the onions. Saute until golden, 7 minutes. Add in the whole cardamom pods.
  4. Add in garlic and red bell pepper. Stir to combine. Cook 5 minutes.
  5. Add in 1 tbsp of the masala powder. Stir to combine.
  6. Add in chopped tomatoes along with their juices. 
  7. Rinse the soaking lentils and drain off the soaking water. Add the lentils to the pot along with 3 and 1/2 cups of fresh water.
  8. Stir in 1/2 tsp of salt. Bring the heat up to medium-high and cook for 40-45 minutes, stirring often. Half-way through cooking add in the rest of the 1 and 1/2 tbsp masala powder. 
  9. Just before serving, stir in 1 tbsp of butter, the fenugreek powder if using, adjust for salt, and serve immediately.
Masala Mix (adapted from Saveur)
A small coffee grinder works efficiently to make ground spices. With some patience, a mortar and pestle can work just as well. Adding the toasted seeds and spices 1 tbsp at a time, begin making swift strokes to pound the spices. This will help break up the seeds and crush the larger parts. Then in a circular motion, crush the spices until a powder forms. Repeat the process to get a finer powder. Remove each batch to a bowl. A small non-slip corkboard can be placed under the mortar to protect the countertop. Pre-ground spices can be added last.

Ingredients, listed in order of use:
2 tsp whole coriander seeds
1 tsp fenugreek seeds
1/2 tsp fresh ground pepper
1/2 tsp nutmeg, ground
6 whole cardamom pods
1/2 tsp red chili powder
1/4 tsp red chili flakes
1 tbsp paprika
2 tbsp smoked paprika
2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp cinnamon

  1. Toast the coriander, cardamom pods, and fenugreek seeds together in a small sauce pan (low heat so they don't burn). Stir them around the pan often.
  2. Once they are toasted and golden, about 5 minutes, transfer the spices to a spice grinder, or add in batches to a mortar and pestle.
  3. Place the crushed powder in a small bowl. Add in pepper, nutmeg, red chili powder, red chili flakes, both types of paprika, salt and cinnamon to the bowl.

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