Lentils can be quick. Let me prove it to you. I worked from home yesterday and in the time it took me to get ready to go to a noon yoga class I had prepared a dahl with rice.
I’ve written before on dahl but that was a little more labor-intensive and time-consuming than this quickie meal. This meal, while it can be put together in a snap, still has plenty of payoff: filling, satisfying, and spicy, these lentils go great with steaming basmati rice and a side of greens.
I’m not sure how or why, but dahl is one my ultimate comfort foods. Given that I grew up on pb&j and fish sticks, this isn’t necessarily intuitive, but it’s now a given. Once I discovered I could make my own at home, well, the rest is history.
And one of the best parts about this dish was I had everything on hand and did not consult even one recipe. I worked from memory and guessed on the amounts of everything.
If you have garam masala on hand it will make this meal all that faster. If not, you have a couple of options. Either use what you have and make the best of it: turmeric powder and ground cumin will go a long way. If you have coriander seeds, cumin seeds, cardamom seeds, whole black peppercorns, mustard seeds, and the time and patience, I’d recommend quickly toasting these in a small cast-iron skillet, then grinding in a spice or coffee grinder. You can see my recipe here for a homemade curry powder, or garam masala.
Any lentils will really work here, except maybe French green lentils, which I’d use more for salads than dahl. I used the red lentils I always have on hand—the pinch of turmeric is what turns the dish yellow. I threw in half a veggie bouillon cube for flavor, but you definitely don’t need to.
The key to making this dish, and making it seem effortless, is getting everything cooking in the pot, then forgetting about it while you go do something else for a while, like some downward dogs.
Curry in a Hurry
Makes 4 servings
1 tbsp olive oil, butter, or ghee
1 medium onion, diced
2 dried red chiles
1 tbsp garam masala
1/2 tsp turmeric
2 c water
1 c lentils, rinsed and drained
1/2 bouillon cube, optional
salt, to taste
In a large, sturdy pot, heat your oil or butter over a medium flame, then add the diced onion. Cook the onion for about 5-10 minutes; you can leave the lid partially on to speed along the cooking and avoid the onions smoking. Once the onions are translucent or starting to brown, add a dash of salt, 1 or 2 dried red chiles, depending on how much heat you like, the garam masala, and turmeric. Give it all a stir.
Add 1 c of water and the lentils and turn up the heat and bring to a boil. Once boiling, you can add the bouillon if using, and the remaining 1 c water. Turn the heat down to simmer and cover completely. Let simmer for at least 15 minutes, if that’s all the time you have, a little bit more if you’ve got the time. Turn off the heat, keep the lid on, and let stand for at least 10 more minutes.
Quick tip: I turned off the heat on the lentils after about 15 minutes of cooking, went to my class, and when I came back they were done. (If you like them more creamy, or completely dissolved, let cook for longer.) Same with the rice, I turned off the heat after it cooked for only 15 minutes, and it cooked itself in the steam with the lid on.
Serve the dahl over rice. If it’s spicy you might like a little plain yogurt spooned on top. I also like to eat this with a side of sauteed collard greens or kale.