The first time I made this recipe it felt like my kitchen and everyone in it pulled on a soft wool sweater, grabbed a purring cat and settled in by the fire with a relaxing 'ahhhh'. This nourishing soup is the very definition of cozy, and is ridiculously simple to boot!
Adapted from the Gourmet Cookbook's "Red Lentil Dal with Tofu" (edited by the amazing Ruth Reichl), this dal uses ghee (clarified butter) to enhance flavor and nutrition, chopped spinach (or your favorite green) to help the presentation pop, and tweaks the spices for even more delicious eating.
You're welcome to use vegetable oil in place of the ghee, but I have included a recipe for ghee that is simple and so worth it. Ghee has a high smoke point, so you can use it in place of vegetable oil in any recipe, and it can be tolerated by most people who cannot otherwise eat dairy. You can also purchase ghee at most natural foods stores these days (but it is much more economical and satisfying to make your own)
Heat 3 tablespoons ghee or oil in a large heavy saucepan over moderate heat. Add onion and cook, stirring, until beautiful and golden, 5-8 minutes. Add garlic and ginger and cook, stirring, 1 minute more.
Add lentils and water and bring just to a boil. Turn the heat down and simmer, covered, 20 minutes. Remove from heat.
Heat remaining 3 tablespoons of ghee or oil in a small heavy skillet until hot but not smoking. Add cumin seeds and cook, stirring, for 1 minute. Add curry powder, salt, and cayenne and cook, stirring, until fragrant (about 20 seconds)
Stir hot spiced ghee into lentils. If using a hearty green (such as kale or chard), add now. Let stand, covered, for 5 minutes to allow flavors to develop. Taste and add salt if necessary. Stir in spinach or microgreens if you haven't already.
Serve over rice or potatoes or on it's own with a dollop of plain yogurt, ghee, and/or hot sauce. Enjoy!
Put butter in a saucepan and melt over low heat. Let simmer for about 30-40 minutes.
Keep an eye on the butter as it simmers, especially in the last 10 minutes. Occasionally skim the white foam that forms on the top. Watch the pot to make sure that the butter doesn't burn. When the solids that have floated to the bottom or clung to the side of the pot turn brownish, turn off the heat.
Pour the ghee into a pint jar, either through a sieve lined with cheesecloth/paper towels, or by carefully pouring the clear liquid into the jar and keeping the brown solids from getting in. Discard the solids.
The ghee, which is probably a brownish-gold color when hot, will cool to solidify into a beautiful light yellow color.
Makes about 1 pint