spicy red lentils & cool cucumber yogurt

My Sunday happened in fast forward.  In a somewhat embarrassing turn of events, I managed to give my self a pretty serious sunburn and a less serious hangover all before noon.  All this to say, I wound up back in bed, curtains drawn, throbbing head stuffed under a pillow, while the good people of the world were out walking their dogs and tidying up their yards.

It started innocently enough: a bike ride and brunch to be exact.  One flat tire, one rental bike, and one restaurant “closed due to staff shortage” later, found us sipping pounding mimosas in the sunshine.  Note to self: never order a pitcher of anything before breakfast.

When I emerged from my cave this afternoon, I reached for some vegetable therapy in the form of Yotam Ottolenghi’s book Plenty.  The dish here is boldly spicy and richly fragrant with spice.  The secret comes at the end, when what was a fairly innocent pot of lentils is transformed with a 1/3 cup of butter and a big squeeze of lime juice.  The results are unctuous (but healthy!)  We ate the lentils with cool-creamy cucumber yogurt, chopped greens, and charred pita bread (try this recipe or revive store bought pita by heating it a few second over a gas burner.)  Along with a tall glass of ice water and some dark sunglasses, it was a thoroughly restorative Sunday dinner.

Serves 4-6.

One Year Ago: Tortilla Espanola with Paprika Aioli Sauce.

Two Years Ago: Brown Sugar Roast Rhubarb with Scotch Shortbread & Roasted Asparagus with Walnut Crema.

Spicy Red Lentils & Cool Cucumber Yogurt

Adapted from Plenty, by Yotam Ottolenghi

For the Lentils

  • 1 cup red lentils (I used a combination of red & yellow because that’s what I had on hand)
  • 1 ½ cups cold water, plus more as needed
  • 1 bunch cilantro, well washed
  • 1 small onion, peeled and roughly chopped
  • 3 garlic cloves, peeled
  • 2 ½ inch squash piece of fresh ginger, peeled and roughly chopped
  • 1 jalapeño or other mild green chili (use less to cut back on the heat), stem end removed
  • 1 ½ tsp black mustard seeds
  • ¼ cup vegetable oil
  • 1 ½ tsp ground coriander
  • 1 tsp ground cumin
  • ½ tsp ground turmeric
  • ¼ tsp sweet paprika
  • ½ tsp fenugreek (optional)
  • 2 tsp brown sugar
  • 1 ¾ cup canned diced tomatoes
  • Salt
  • 1/3 cup unsalted butter (replace with coconut milk for a vegan version)
  • 1 tbsp fresh lime juice

For the Cucumber Yogurt

  • ¾ cup Greek yogurt
  • ¾ cup finely diced cucumber
  • Salt
  • 1 ½ tbsp olive oil

To Serve

  • Warm pita bread
  • Chopped greens and/or cilantro leaves
  • A drizzle of olive oil

Cover the lentils with the water and set aside.

Cut the cilantro bunch so you have the leaves roughly separated from the stems.  Place the stems in the bowl of a food processor and chop the leaves roughly and set aside.  Add the onion, garlic, ginger, and jalapeño to the cilantro stems and pulse until finely chopped, but not a paste.

Heat a heavy bottomed pot over medium heat.  Add the mustard seeds, and once they begin to pop add the oil and onion mixture.  Reduce the heat to low and cook, stirring occasionally, about 10 minutes until soft and aromatic.  Add the spices and cook another 5 minutes.

Add the brown sugar, tomatoes, and a big pinch of salt along with the lentils and their soaking liquid.  Turn up the heat and bring to a boil, then reduce to medium-low, cover, and cook 30-40 minutes until the lentils are soft.  Check periodically to make sure the liquid hasn’t all been absorbed – add a little more water as needed.  (If using yellow lentils, cooking time will be 50-60 minutes and you’ll need a little extra water.)  Once cooked, add the butter, lime juice, and reserved chopped cilantro leaves.  Taste for seasoning – it will likely need another big pinch of salt.

While the lentils are cooking, prepare the cucumber yogurt by mixing together the yogurt, cucumbers, and olive oil with a little salt.

To serve, ladle the lentils into serving dishes and top with a dollop of yogurt, a drizzle of olive oil, and a few chopped greens or cilantro leaves.  I loved this scooped with warm pita bread.  Steamed basmati rice would also be welcome.

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