Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Tamarind lentils

This is a recipe I've wanted to try for a long time, and now don't know why I haven't, because I'll be making it again and again. It's amazingly good. Maybe what was holding me back was that it calls for "tamarind paste," because I hate the stuff in the jars, and make my own—it takes seconds—from the rectangles of concentrated actual tamarind you can buy in Superstore or any Indian grocery store. The tamarind squares are just squished tamarind, including seeds and fiber, so all you need to do is pour a little water over a bit of it, heat it in the microwave for a few seconds, then stir the mixture up and press it through a sieve. Instant tamarind paste that tastes unlike the toxic waste that comes out of any jar I've ever tried. Proper tamarind paste tastes like…well, like lemon/lime with a bit of a dark side…myself, I can lick it off the sieve, but that's just me. Here's an entertaining video showing you how to make it with so much more style and verve than I ever could.

Tamarind lentils
from Veganomicon (recipe found here and re-stolen)
serves 4

3 tbsp coconut or peanut oil
3 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 inch cube fresh ginger, peeled and minced
1 large onion, diced
1 tsp garam masala
1/2 tsp whole cumin seeds
generous pinch of cayenne (I used a very generous pinch, like about 1 tsp)
1 cup dried lentils (black or green preferred)
2 cups vegetable broth or water
2 tsp tamarind syrup or paste
1 tbsp pure maple syrup or agave nectar
2 tbsp tomato paste
1/2 tsp salt

In a heavy-bottomed medium-size pot with a lid, heat oil over medium heat. Add garlic and ginger and let sizzle for 30 seconds. Add onion and fry until translucent and soft, 2 to 3 minutes. Stir in garam masala, cumin seeds, and cayenne, and stir for 30 seconds until spices smell fragrant. [At this point, if you are not actually swooning with bliss at the smell, you need a better masala recipe.]

Add lentils and liquid, increase heat to high, and bring to a boil. Stir and lower heat to medium-low. Partially cover and simmer for 25 to 30 minutes. Stir occasionally until lentils have absorbed most of the cooking liquid and are very tender. The lentils will be very thick. If you want a thinner consistency, add a few more tablespoons of water.

Aren't French lentils just stupendously gorgeous? I went into aesthetic arrest the first time I ever saw them, in the bulk section at Save-On Foods back in the day when Save-On had the best bulk food section in the city (seriously, what happened, Save-On?).

In small bowl, combine tamarind, maple syrup/agave, tomato paste, and salt. Use a rubber spatula to scrape all of the mixture into the lentils.

Stir to completely dissolve all the flavorings. Simmer for another 4 to 6 minutes. Adjust salt to taste.

I had this, as recommended, with the Poppy-seed cornmeal roti, also from Veganomicon, which was, in my opinion, kind of meh, but this may (somehow) have been my fault, though I tried to follow the recipe exactly. I did use whole wheat flour rather than whole wheat pastry flour, but then, I'm an old hand at making roti with whole wheat flour and I always like them. These ones turned out quite dry and crispy despite the rather high oil content.

The deal with this recipe is that besides the actual roti dough, you also make "crumbs", which are a mixture of whole wheat flour, cornmeal, oil, and salt--and then you fold all this into the roti as you are rolling them. But those are…the same ingredients as are in the roti…and they add nothing except a little extra fuss as far as I can tell. Eh, next time I'll stick with plain whole wheat.

But those tamarind lentils…go on out and try them…do…


  1. I was just thinking about that lentil recipe, which I have yet to try. It sounds great and love the sourness tamarind adds to dishes. Thanks also for commenting about the roti, because when I first read through the recipe--another one I have not yet attempted--the "crumb" struck me as being a little unusual (intriguing, though, I must admit).

  2. I love French lentils too...they're my favorite. They must be super tasty cooked up in that sauce. I have Veganomicon too, but sometimes I need some extra impetus to crack it open. You've definitely provided that! And thanks for the how-to about the tamarind paste...I've been buying the toxic stuff in jars!