There are dinners that are quick to prepare, there are those that take a long time and then there is the occasional one that tastes like it took a long time to make but was actually pretty quick. Today’s post is about this latter category. This is not the quickest dinner in the world but it’s very doable on a weeknight if you have the ingredients (more or less) on hand. And on a side note, I am developing a two-part series on pantry stocking and really quick dinners–20 minute dinners–so stay tuned for those.
This recipe calls for a fair number of spices (some of which you can get away with omitting if you don’t have them on hand) but having a well-stocked spice rack is awfully useful especially this time of year. Whole spices like cumin and mustard seeds, called for in this recipe, keep really well so stock up once a year on those (or more often of course if you use them lots) and you’re set. Being well-stocked in general is also a big money saver. This topic deserves a whole series of posts but maybe we can consider this the introduction.
I think of being well-stocked as the foundation for the “cook with what you have” philosophy. For me this means that I rarely shop for a specific dish/menu. Instead I shop to restock the dry goods pantry, the crisper/fridge/freezer. This kind of cooking/shopping does not suit everyone but it can be fun, creative and is definitely a good way to trim the grocery budget, if that’s a goal of yours. And with practice, this kind of cooking really is so satisfying. To quote my friend Elizabeth who after a successful dinner of this nature, said, “I stared down the fridge and I won!” And you won’t need to go whole hog down this road, but try it for a few nights and see how it works. Most people have things floating around their dry pantry that in combination with some eggs or cheese or herbs or meat or veggies would make a wonderful frittata, soup, stew, gratin, . . .. Let me know how it goes!
And with that little challenge I’m going to commit to building up my recipe archive on this site to offer more of these kinds of recipes or ideas but this, this, this, this, and this one all might be considered in such a category.
Red Lentil and Winter Squash Dhal
–Inspired by Dana Treat’s Red Lentil Dhal which was inspired by The Modern Vegetarian
Yes, list of ingredients is long but most of it is spices and the dish comes together quite quickly. If you use veggie bouillon you’ll need much less salt that the recipe below calls for. It’s extra delicious with the bouillon so by all means use it if you have it, or make it if you don’t:)!
1 tablespoon olive or vegetable oil
2 tsp. cumin seeds
2 tsp. black or brown mustard seeds (can omit in a pinch)
1 medium onion, finely diced
1 ½ inches of fresh ginger, peeled and minced
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 jalapeno chili, seeded, finely chopped (can omit and just use more chili flakes/powder)
1 ½ tsp. curry powder
2 tsp. ground cumin
1 tsp. turmeric (can omit in a pinch)
Pinch of chili powder
Salt – about 2-3 tsp. kosher salt (it takes more salt than you might think unless you’re using veggie bouillon)
2 cups red lentils
2-3 cups diced winter squash (acorn, butternut, kabocha, pumpkin, etc.)
5 cups veggie bouillon or water
1 15-oz. can coconut milk
Juice of 1 lemon
½ a bunch of mint, chopped (can omit in a pinch)
½ a bunch of cilantro, chopped (can omit in a pinch or substitute parsley)
Heat just enough oil to coat the bottom of a large pan and add the mustard and cumin seeds. As soon as they begin to pop (only takes about 30 -90 seconds) add the onion, turn down the heat to medium, and cook until softened – about five minutes. Add the ginger, garlic, minced jalapeno, curry powder, cumin, turmeric, and chile powder and fry for 3 minutes.
Add the lentils and stir to coat with the oil and spices. Add squash, salt, water, and coconut milk. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat so the dhal is at a simmer. Cover partially and cook, stirring occasionally so it doesn’t stick to the bottom, until the lentils and squash have partially lost their shape and are soft – about 20 minutes. Stir in more liquid as necessary for the consistency you want. Add the chopped herbs. Cook for a minute or two then season with more sea salt and add the lemon juice to taste. Serve warm over long grain white or brown rice and with plain Greek or other whole milk yogurt if you’d like. This also freezes well.
And finally, if you’re itching for a cooking class or would like to give someone (or yourself!) the gift of a class, there are some fun options available.
Happy cooking and eating!