This dish came about from a what’s-on-hand-I-need-to-make-dinner-now moment. I always have red lentils in the pantry for dal, I had some fresh tomatoes on the counter and I had about a cup of homemade pumpkin purée left over from making pumpkin pie. The previous week, I had attended a Hindu funeral and devoured a most delicious curried pumpkin dish. That inspired me to cook this.
When I make dal, I always include (among other things) two ingredients—something hot, preferably a serrano or jalapeño pepper if in season, and lime or lemon juice. I had already started cooking this and panicked a bit when I realized I had no fresh hot peppers, no lemons and no limes. In the old days, I may have made a trip to the store for just a lemon and a pepper. Not today. I make do. I often make discoveries. And I eliminate our food waste.
This oversight—cooking dal without realizing I didn’t have two staple ingredients—led to an improved dish. Fermented jalapeño has a nice tang (and lots of heat) and leftover preserved lemon juice adds a rich, intense, complex flavor to bean or legume dishes. If you make preserved lemons, hold on to the pulp and juice after you eat the skins. And hold on to any juice left from the fermented peppers too. That alone adds flavor and heat to food.
I made this dal at Thanksgiving for my vegetarian guests (and everyone else) and served it with fermented pear-cranberry chutney. Yum!
- 1 cup red lentils
- 3 cups water
- 2 tablespoons oil for sautéing
- 1 tablespoon cumin seeds
- 1 chopped onion
- 4 cloves minced garlic
- 1 serrano or small jalapeño pepper or 1 tablespoon fermented hot peppers, minced
- 1 teaspoon turmeric
- 1/2 teaspoon coriander
- 1 teaspoon fenugreek seeds
- 1 teaspoon dry mustard seeds
- 1 pound medium-size tomatoes, chopped (about 2 cups chopped into large chunks)
- I cup pumpkin purée (make the purée in the oven or in a pressure cooker)
- Juice of 1 lime or lemon or 1/4 cup preserved lemon juice
- 1 teaspoon salt or to taste
- A few tablespoons of chopped cilantro
1. Rinse lentils and add to a medium-size saucepan along with the water. Bring to a boil, turn down the heat and simmer for about 10 minutes or until tender. They will look soupy once cooked.
2. Heat oil in a large saucepan over medium-high heat. Add the cumin seeds and cook until fragrant, about one minute.
3. Add onions, garlic and fresh jalapeño. (Wait to add fermented jalapeño later.) Sauté over medium heat for five to ten minutes until the onions are translucent.
4. Add spices and cook for a minute.
5. Add tomatoes and cook for about five more minutes.
6. Stir in pumpkin purée, cooked lentils and their liquid, fermented jalapeños if using, lemon or lime or preserved lemon juice and salt. If the consistency remains thick, add a bit of water. Heat through. Garnish with fresh cilantro.
7. Serve with rice, naan or roti.
I know I keep saying this, but I love cooking this way. It makes cooking more fun, more frugal and often, more delicious.