This is an easy main dish, one that can be prepared in a fully equipped kitchen or in a hotel room or college dorm with one of those hotplates that looks like a single burner from an electric stove. It serves 4 to 6 people and takes about an hour and a half to prepare in a regular kitchen. It will take a bit longer if you’re working with a single burner, as you have to alternate your pots and skillet.
The bare minimum of equipment:
- 3 or 4 quart size cooking pot with lid
- 2 or 3 quart rice pot or cooking pot with tight lid, can use aluminum foil
- 10 inch skillet, heavy is great, but work with what you’ve got
- A decent knife, measuring spoons and cup, cooking spoon or spatula
- A fine colander or sieve would be nice, but with a bit of creativity, isn’t absolutely essential
- 1 cup dry lentils
- 1 quart water
- 2 teaspoons salt
- 1/2 teaspoon turmeric
- 1 teaspoon ground hot red pepper (try to get something imported from India, as regional flavors vary, but again… you can work with what you’ve got)
- 8 tablespoons ghee (clarified butter, can substitute half olive oil and half butter, if need be)
- 1 inch piece fresh ginger, peeled, then cut into thin slivers or chopped fine
- 1 medium yellow cooking onion chopped fine
- 1 teaspoon ground coriander
- 1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
- 1/2 teaspoon garam masala (a spice mixure from India, Laxmi is my favorite brand, but there are several, some are a little anise heavy for my taste. I find Laxmi to be the perfect balance)
- 2 tablespoons fine chopped fresh coriander, also called cilantro (a nice touch, but can do without if you have to)
- 2 cups rice (Basmati is the best rice in the world, use it if you can. If not, choose a long grain rice)
- 2 tablespoons or so of ghee, olive oil or butter and two teaspoons more salt for rice
- 3 cups water to cook rice in
(Order of operations for single burner cooking follow)
- Wash lentils well and put into a pot with the water, salt, turmeric, and 1/2 teaspoon of the hot red pepper. Bring to a boil, then cover. turn to low, and let simmer for about an hour, stirring occasionally. Lentils are done when tender, but not falling apart. Remove from heat, and set aside, keeping cover on.
- While lentils are simmering, start rice. If using Basmati, rinse and drain. If using regular long grain, use your judgement. They say you shouldn’t rinse rice, as you lose nutrients. However, I don’t like sticky rice, so I do rinse. Put the ghee, oil or butter and salt in the rice pot and turn on to low heat. Add the rice and stir constantly over heat for about 5 minutes. Add 3 cups water. Bring to boil. Stir and reduce heat to low. Cover. If the lid is not tight, put foil on over the pan and then the lid. Let cook 35 to 40 minutes.
- While lentils and rice are cooking, cut fresh ginger and onion. Put in skillet with ghee (or olive oil and butter) and remaining ground spices. The fresh coriander is for sprinkling on top after it is done. Don’t forget to add that other half teaspoon of ground red pepper. Cook this over medium heat, stirring frequently to avoid sticking or scorching. Give it about 7 minutes or so, long enough for the onions to get golden brown and soft and for the flavors of the spices and ghee or oil to blend well.
- Add the contents of the skillet to the pot with the lentils. Stir and let simmer together on low heat for 10 minutes or so to allow flavor to come together nicely.
- Serve over cooked rice, with a sprinkle of chopped fresh coriander and a drizzle of ghee or olive oil, if desired.
I’ve made this dish many times on the road, in hotel rooms, etc. — definately do-able and delicious. For those working with a single burner, here’s the order of operations:
- Do the lentils first. When you add the skillet of onions, ginger and spices, cover the pot and set aside. The flavor will blend and develop quite nicely while you do the rice.
- Make the rice, remove the from heat when done. Keep tightly covered so it stays hot.
- At this point, if you want to steam vegetables to go with the meal, do it. Use the skillet you cooked the onions and spices in, it will add a touch of flavor. Cover to keep hot when done, if you have foil or a plate.
- Put the lentils back on the heat and bring to just before boiling.
- Serve. Everything will be at the right temperature and your meal wonderful.