Snow Day Salve

We interrupt our regularly scheduled blogfest with the following weather announcement: the Washington area is getting some snow today.

However the storm continues, it's a safe bet that come suppertime, the weather outside will be slightly frightful, if not annoying -- conditions that call for a hot pot of stove-top defrosting magic.

Red lentils: a most formidable Snow Day solution. (Kim O'Donnel)

Don't worry; I'm not suggesting a two-hour kitchen production on this potentially challenging weeknight. In fact, the recipe below for red lentil soup (aka masoor dal) takes about 45 minutes, start to finish. Not everyone has red lentils on hand in their pantry, I understand. But if you're already making the requisite trip to the grocery store for bread, milk and toilet paper, I urge you to look for red lentils and pick up the accompanying aromatics that make this soup so satisfying.

Alternatively, pick up a container of the more common brown or green variety which lend themselves to all kinds of flavor possibilities. The two main differences between the red and the green is cooking time (green require about 15 minutes of additional time) and resulting texture (red is mushier, like a potage, whereas green tend to hold their shape).

If, by chance, you're scanning the list of ingredients below, and you don't care for tomatoes, no worries. Leave'em out. I also offer a handful of options for seasoning the legumes, depending on your spice rack inventory and preferences. The point is, the recipe is forgiving and flexible, and best of all, will make you smile on what promises to be a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day.

P.S.: This is a fun dish to make with kids; the coral-colored pulses change color while cooking, resulting in a shade of marigold yellow. Younger helpers will have fun adding whole spices to the soup pot and will be guaranteed an exciting aroma-sensory experience.

And please, if lentils fail to excite you, share your tried-and-true dish that takes the chill off on the proverbial snow day.

Masoor Dal

2 cups red lentils, rinsed
1 1-inch hunk of peeled fresh ginger
1/4 teaspoon ground turmeric
1 whole garlic clove, peeled
Optional: 1 cinnamon stick, 1 star anise pod, 1 bay leaf
1-2 teaspoons coarse salt
3 tablespoons vegetable oil
Pinch asafetida (optional)
1 1/2 teaspoons cumin seeds
1-2 cloves garlic, chopped
1/2-1 medium onion, sliced into thin half-moons
1/4 teaspoon cayenne
6-12 baby tomatoes, halved

Place rinsed lentils in a heavy-bottomed pot and add enough water to cover, plus one inch (about four cups). Add ginger, turmeric and garlic, and any or all of the optional whole spices. Use what you have on hand and what you like -- I am partial to the star anise pod and the cinnamon stick.

Bring to a boil, then lower heat, cover and cook lentils at a simmer, until tender, about 30 minutes. Remove whole spices and season with salt, stirring and tasting with each addition.

In a skillet, heat oil over medium heat and add asafetida (if using), quickly cooking for about 10 seconds, followed by cumin seeds (30 seconds), then garlic and onions. Cook over medium heat, allowing onions to brown at edges. Add cayenne and tomatoes, and season with salt to taste. Pour seasoned mixture into soup, stir and serve.

Makes at least four main-course servings.

By Kim ODonnel |  January 17, 2008; 10:13 AM ET Hot Pot , Vegetarian/Vegan , Winter
Previous: Chat Leftovers: Cookbooks for Meatless Reasons | Next: A Feast Fit for King


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I've never cooked with lentils, but may give this a try. Soups are always my cold snowy weather favorites. My personal favorite is chili (my partner isn't fond of beans so I make it the way my mom taught me, with diced potatoes.)

I'm a carnivore, though. What meat(s) would go well with this soup?

Posted by: DC | January 17, 2008 10:49 AM

DC: this goes great with roast chicken, another snow day fave in my house.

Posted by: Kim O'Donnel | January 17, 2008 10:53 AM

I have the makings of a clam chowder at home I plan to make tonight. (with tomatoes, corn and potatoes)

Posted by: SSMD | January 17, 2008 11:11 AM

Funny, my mood gets better when there's snow in the air and on the ground. What I don't like is the 30 degree rain that is typical for the DC area. 20 degrees and snow makes me want to go outside and play.

To make this cooking related, I'm loathe to turn on the oven in the summertime, so I love winter for bread baking, pizza making, and roasting.

A good dish, variants in "Vegetarian Cooking For Everyone" and "Veganomicon" is lentils and rice with caramelized onions. Note that the 1st recipe should include more spices (garam masala?) and the second appears to have mistakes in it so improvisation is necessary. The 2nd one uses the same red lentils as in this blog.

Posted by: Arlington, VA S | January 17, 2008 11:42 AM

Kim, I've been wanting to mention this for awhile but keep reading the blogs/chats after the fact. Given your interest in gluten-free cooking (much appreciated, by the way), I want to make sure that you and anyone else interested in cooking gluten-free are aware that asafetida is NOT gluten-free. This is definitely one of the lesser-known "bad" items and is one worth mentioning, especially now that you are doing the spice posts. Other than that, the red lentils sound yummy!
This has been a public service announcement.

Posted by: Rosslyn | January 17, 2008 11:51 AM

note, just because you are a carnivore, doesn't mean you need to have meat WITH this. This is a hearty and protein (and fiber) filled meal on its own. Have it with a green of some kind (sauteed spinace would be perfect) and some pita or naan. My carnivore husband eats vegetarian meals about 60% of the time and doesn't miss it.

Posted by: Anonymous | January 17, 2008 12:22 PM

Rosslyn: Thank you so much for your asafetida tidbit. That is new info for me. Much appreciated!

Posted by: Kim O'Donnel | January 17, 2008 1:24 PM

Lentils are a fave bean of mine. I love them, though I've never had this red one. I'd be curious to taste it. The Naan pairing suggested by anonymous sounds good, too.

missing DC,

Posted by: FlaNBoyant Eats | January 17, 2008 8:07 PM

To the nameless poster commenting on my being a carnivore. I've happily eaten veggie meals before, though probably never vegan, but I'm a die hard carnivore and prefer to have meat, poultry, or seafood as a part of my meals. To each his/her own.

Update on my Lentil Experiment. Kim, thanks for the tip on the roasted chicken. I was looking more for a one-pot meal, so got some boneless chicken, sprayed with olive oil, and baked for a half hour. This went into the pot a few minutes before the sauted stuff.

My market didn't have red lentils, and the bag I did buy looked to be a mixture of green and tan. I loved it, but my partner wasn't enthused. Tough Beans! They are healthy AND tasty, and how often do you find something new like that? I'll be doing more with lentils...

For tonight's dish, I'm making my fish/shrimp stew and to jazz it up, I'm mostly using the spices from Kim's lentil dish with my tilapa, shrimp, diced tomatoes, and baby bella mushrooms. It's simmering now and I'll add some pasta shells 10 minutes before dinner. It smells divine and my seafood stew is always a hit with my usually-not-picky-eater partner.

Posted by: Dennis in Arlington | January 18, 2008 6:31 PM

Forgot to mention... I also added 1 cup of brown rice. I took a container to work today for lunch and I can report this dish re-heats beautifully in the microwave.

Oh, to FlaNBoyant Eats... lentils are legumes... ;-)

Posted by: Dennis in Arlington | January 18, 2008 6:33 PM

I love asafetida (aka hing), but strongly recommend storing your container of it inside a glass jar with a tightly fitting metal lid - if you put it in plastic, the spice aroma will start to permeate your kitchen 24/7, which is too much of a good thing.

Once I know I like a lentil recipe, I make a quadruple batch and freeze it in dinner-sized containers - most all dal dishes freeze well.

Posted by: Zab | January 19, 2008 12:28 AM

It was satisfying that the red lintel soup was heralded as a snow day recipe. we enjoy it during normal days too. I would suggest your taste and nourishment locinf readers to try the same prearation to have green gram or yellow dal also.
I would give a few tips for taste:
1.Add finely chopped green garlic to be in the oil with ginger and all that.
2. Add green onions at the last moment just as the cooking finishes.
3.If you prefer, you can spread out coriander leaves to afloat for a novel taste.
4.If not unnecessarily concerned, add half a spoon of butter before closing the lid for serving
5.It will go nice with rice plate also.

Posted by: MANOJ OZA, GANDHINAGAR,GUJARAT,INDIA | January 20, 2008 5:58 AM

Tried this, my husband -- who is SO picky about food -- loves it...and it's VERY filling, very good! I like the suggestions--love the ones from Manoj in INdia, thanks, will try these next time!

Posted by: tootaloo | January 21, 2008 6:47 AM

I couldn't find red lentils at my local Giant. Where are these sold in the city?

Posted by: Sara | January 21, 2008 6:21 PM

Sara - I (surprisingly) found some red lentils at Safeway in Falls Church the other day. They also sell them at Whole Foods (I asked someone where they were, as they weren't with the beans and rice). Good luck!

Posted by: Elyse | January 22, 2008 10:14 AM

Sara- I don't live in the D.C. area (pooh!) but I had a bit of difficulty finding red lentils in a major grocery chain here, too... until it occurred to me to look in the organic/health food section of the store. Strangely, the green lentils were in the regular section of the store, but reds were only in the organic/health food section. The ones I found were part of the Bob's Red Mill line. Otherwise, I'd guess you would have luck at a co-op or natural foods store (where they're likely to be relatively fresh, too).

Good luck. We are trying this recipe tomorrow night as part of our vegetarian experimenting and mid-week soup dinner plans... such adventure ;q

Posted by: for Sara | January 22, 2008 10:16 AM

Thank you, everyone, for your suggestions! I will check whole foods (my Giant's natural foods section is basically cereal-only). Meanwhile, I made the recipe with brown lentils and it still tasted great (I didn't blend it but added kale).

Posted by: Sara | January 24, 2008 10:41 PM

You all should also try yellow lentils, they are pretty good too....

Posted by: ladolce evita | January 28, 2008 9:47 PM

You all should try yellow lentils also...they are pretty good too....

Posted by: la docle evita | January 28, 2008 9:51 PM

oh goodness, what is up with the multiple postings...I'm tired...about to cook some food for a Repass meal for tomorrow...gotta go..anyway the yellow lentils I tink are more readily available than the red....

Posted by: ladolce evita | January 28, 2008 9:54 PM

Abbiamo meno sesso chat ex uno, aveva ogni traghetti napoli.

Posted by: Umberto | February 28, 2008 7:10 AM

Love masoor daal with basmati rice. You can use yellow split moong beans also. Easily available in any Indian grocery places around the country. I use pressure cooker for my daal soups. Or use slow cooker and they are no mess no fuss in there, season them with cumin, hing and other spices.(its a special make fresh seasoning on the spot for all kinds of beans).

Posted by: suman/South Carolina | May 1, 2008 2:04 PM

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