I'm always looking for dynamic plant-based sources of protein. For many people, trying to limit meat consumption leaves them craving rich foods to take the place of their pot roast or steak dinner. Showing them that a vegetarian meal can be deeply satisfying is always rewarding for this whole foods Chef.
When I traveled to India last year, I was continually inspired by the ways in which the mostly vegetarian nation got their protein. Their answer - LENTILS. They are called dal in India and they show up at almost every meal in one of their many colors, shapes, and varieties.
Lentils are a super food in my book – super nutritious, super easy to prepare, and super inexpensive. They are low in calories, but high in nutrients and packed with protein. Lentils are rich in dietary fiber, which helps lower cholesterol and regulate blood sugar, and minerals like vitamin B, folate, and magnesium to promote heart health. The iron in lentils makes them a great meal for energy.
One of the tastiest lentil dishes I came across in my travels was Dal Makhni. Dal Makhni traditionally has cream (makhni literally means "with butter"), but when I set about making it at home, I wanted to keep the dish dairy-free. My Indian-inspired lentil stew uses coconut milk to add a rich and satisfying flavor, without the lactose that often causes digestive distress. The urad dal is also key to this dish’s creamy texture, but it can be substituted with black lentils if necessary.
CULINARY WELLNESS TIP: Don't be intimidated by the long list of ingredients in this recipe- its mostly spices. I highly recommend taking a trip to an Asian grocer to stock up your pantry with a variety of spices and dried herbs. You will be opening up your culinary repertoire to a wealth of global flavors that will add variety and major YUM-factor to your meals. Buy spices in small quantities, since ground spices only stay fresh for about 6 months, or buy a spice grinder (coffee grinder) to blend up your own for maximum flavor.
Dal Makhani (Creamy, Spiced Black Lentil Stew)
Yield: 4 one-cup servings
Adapted from Lisa Turner's Dal Makhani
¾ cup dried whole urad dal (or black lentils), soaked overnight
¼ cup dried kidney beans, soaked overnight
½ teaspoon turmeric
2-inch piece cinnamon stick
2 black cardamom pods
3 cloves garlic, minced
2-inch piece fresh ginger, minced
1 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons ghee or coconut oil
1 teaspoon cumin seeds
1 teaspoon fenugreek seeds
¼ teaspoon cayenne
1 teaspoon garam masala
Pinch asafetida (optional)
1 (15 ounce) can diced tomatoes
Small handful curry leaves (optional, but highly recommended)
1 cup + ¼ cup coconut milk
¼ cup cilantro, chopped
- Rinse soaked lentils and beans, transfer to a medium pot, and cover with three cups of water. Add the turmeric, cinnamon stick, cardamom pods, 1/3 of the garlic, 1/3 of the ginger, and ¼ teaspoon of the salt. Bring to a boil, reduce to a simmer and cook covered until beans are tender (about one hour).
- While beans are cooking, heat the ghee or coconut oil in a skillet. Add the cumin and fenugreek seeds, stirring for about 30 seconds. Then add the remaining garlic and ginger, cayenne, garam masala, and asafetida, stirring for another 30 seconds. Finally, add the tomatoes, curry leaves, and salt. Simmer for about 5 minutes. The mixture should thicken as the tomato juices reduce.
- When the beans are tender, mash briefly with the back of a fork. Transfer the spiced tomato mixture into the pot of lentils and beans, stir to combine, and cook uncovered for another 15 minutes. Remove the cinnamon stick, cardamom pods, and curry leaves. Stir in one cup of the coconut milk and taste for seasoning.
- Serve each portion with 1 tablespoon coconut milk drizzled on top, chopped cilantro, and a squeeze of lime.