Cookbook Challenge 2011: Fortnight 12, Spice

Theme: Spice
Recipe: Spiced red lentils with cucumber yoghurt
From: Ottolenghi’s Plenty

Do you ever have those instances when you have a very firm idea of a dish in your head? You know the ingredients you want, you know what the texture should be like, and you know what it should taste like. It sends you off to find a recipe to try and create it, hoping that it will meet your expectations.

The theme for this fortnight’s Cookbook Challenge is “spice” and I knew immediately that I wanted to make dal. And I *knew* what this dal was going to be like. I could see it, I knew the texture, and I could almost taste it.

I flicked through several cookbooks trying to find a recipe that looked like it would create the dal I wanted. I wanted something packed with flavour and spices, with thick and creamy lentils. If I made something thin and insipid, I knew I was not going to be happy.

Eventually, I came across a recipe for spiced red lentils in Ottolenghi’s Plenty, which basically looked like a dal. I crossed my fingers and started soaking the lentils.

Perhaps if I had cooked more from this cookbook I would have realised… there was no point in worrying. Because it was the best damn dal I’ve EVER made and it was exactly what I saw in my head. So I say to you: MAKE THIS. Yes, it’s a long list of ingredients and it looks complicated. But I assure you – it’s not that hard, and it’s worth it. And since I’m already being all bossy and commanding, I have another demand: don’t be tempted to skip the butter at the end. It looks like a lot (okay, it kind of is a lot) but it makes the dal all buttery and generally awesome.

I was so happy. The lentils were thick and creamy like I wanted, and because I had increased the amount of chilli, there was a bit of a kick along with all the flavours from the spices. I didn’t make the cucumber yoghurt, and personally I don’t think it needs it because the lentils were delicious on their own. I can see myself making this a lot. So I say to you again: MAKE THIS.

Read past Cookbook Challenge posts or see what everyone else made at the Cookbook Challenge forum.

Spiced red lentils with cucumber yoghurt

From Ottolenghi’s Plenty

Serves 2-4

200g split red letils
350ml water
50g bunch of coriander
1 small onion, peeled
40g peeled fresh ginger
4 garlic cloves, peeled
3 fresh chillies (more or less to taste)
1 & 1/2 teaspoons black mustard seeds
4 tablespoons sunflower oil
1 & 1/2 teaspoons ground coriander
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon ground turmeric
1/4 teaspoon sweet paprika
10 curry leaves
300g peeled chopped tomatoes (fresh or canned)
2 teaspoons sugar
1/4 teaspoon fenugreek (optional)
Pinch of asafoetida (optional)
70g unsalted butter
1 & 1/2 tablespoons lime juice

For the yoghurt:
150g Greek yoghurt
75g cucumber, finely diced
1 & 1/2 tablespoons olive oil

Wash the lentils really well in cold running water, then soak in the 350ml of water. Set aside for 30 minutes.

Give the bunch of coriander a really good wash, then cut halfway up the stalk to separate the leaves from the roots. Chop up the leaves roughly, then set aside. Place the root end into a food processor with the onion, ginger and chilli and pulse to chop everything up. You want it roughly chopped into smallish pieces, but not a paste.

Heat a heavy-based pot on medium heat, and put the mustard seeds inside. When they start to pop, add the onion mixture and the oil. Cook on a low heat for about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Add the ground coriander, cumin, turmeric, paprika and curry leaves. Continue cooking for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Add the lentils, the soaking water, tomatoes, sugar, fenugreek and asafoetida and salt. Cover and simmer for about 30 minutes or until the lentils are fully cooked.

Stir in the butter, lime juice and chopped coriander leaves. Taste and season with salt, then serve with the cucumber yoghurt (if desired).

To make the yoghurt, whisk together the yoghurt, cucumber, olive oil and salt.