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Red Lentil Dhal Saves The Day

James Joyce's last words were "Does nobody understand?" I ocassionally think of this while trying to make plans with friends and family members. Despite, (or is it because of?) the ease of text messages, emails, Facebook postings, tweets, and other means of staying in touch, communicating with loved ones can be a little bit like modernist literature: utterly confusing.

So it was over the weekend, when plans with old friends suddenly coalesced around a midday walk in the park with the kids. To any ordinary human, this might seem perfectly sensible, but it sent my mind racing. I quickly wondered, “What will we eat? What can I serve them?”

Because I’m constantly obsessing about food, my larder is almost always well stocked (after my trip to the store this week, Santa Maria started a new shopping list with the words “NO MORE CHEESE” written atop it). After a moment’s thought, I conjured a quick answer: my old favorite, spicy red-lentil dhal. It takes less than an hour to make, and, after all, I already had a pot of rice cooked, and waiting, in the fridge.

Red Lentil Dhal
  • Olive oil
  • 1 onion quartered lengthwise and thinly sliced crosswise 
  • 2 bay leaves 
  • One 2 inch or so cinnamon stick 
  • 2 teaspoons (or more) of minced fresh ginger 
  • 3 cloves of garlic 
  • 1 dash of cayenne pepper 
  • 2 cups small red lentils, about a pound, rinsed
  • 1 lemon, halved and juiced (seeds removed) 
  • 3 or 4 cups of chicken stock 
  • 3 or 4 cups of hot water  
  • 1 teaspoon salt 
Heat the oil in a heavy sauce pan
Add the onion, bay leaves, and cinnamon stick
Saute until the onions are translucent
Add the garlic and the ginger and the cayenne
Continue cooking another few minutes
Add the lentils and stir to coat them with oil
Add the chicken stock and the water
Add the lemon juice and the squeezed halves of the fruit
Add the salt
Bring to a boil
Reduce to a simmer
Cook for about a half hour, until the onions mostly break up and the lentils more or less dissolve. If it looks like it needs more water, add some. 
This freezes remarkably well. It is best served with rice. To make it more fancy, caramelize some onions to go on top, along with some plain yogurt, and some chopped cilantro. 
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