Bengali Orange Lentils with Cilantro and Tomatoes

By • February 22, 2017 5 Comments

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Author Notes: These lentils are everyday fare in most Bengali homes. This recipe, adapted from the Bengali Five Spice Chronicles, is my mother's winter variation. The split husked masoor dal used in this recipe, ranges in color between pink to red, orange being the most common color.
The key to this recipe and any other Indian recipe is the process we call tempering or tarka. Seasoned oil is used to infuse flavor into the lentils. This can be done to perk up any dish such as leftover plain rice.

Tomato is not a native on Indian tables, but it surfaces, with all its red acidic freshness, in Indian winter markets. That is when it gets meshed into this recipe on my mother's table.

There are many layers of flavoring in the tempering: I often use only cumin, but my mother adds in some chopped fried onion. There are rules to the process of tempering or what we call shombora in Bengali. Not all tempering work with all lentils.

In my home, this calls my name most days, when the weather is cool or chilly. It is also wonderful just by itself as a soup. If you want to mute the spiciness, add the green chiles about 15 minutes into the cooking process.
Rinku Bhattacharya /Spice Chronicles

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Serves 4 to 6

  • 3/4 cup split orange lentils
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground turmeric
  • 1 teaspoon salt, or to taste
  • 2 medium-sized Roma tomatoes, chopped (or 1 cup of drained chopped tomatoes from a can)
  • 1 tablespoon minced fresh ginger
  • 4 green Serrano chiles, tops removed, cut in half lengthwise
  • 3 tablespoons neutral oil, such as grapeseed
  • 1 small onion, diced (about 1/4 cup)
  • 2 teaspoons ghee or clarified butter
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons whole cumin seeds
  • 1 or 2 dried red chiles
  • Torn cilantro, for garnish
  1. In a large pot, bring 3 cups of water to a boil.
  2. Add in the orange lentils, turmeric, salt, tomatoes, ginger, and green chiles. Cover the lentils, lower the heat, and simmer for 20 minutes. For a less spicy dish, add the green chiles about 15 minutes into the cooking process.
  3. Turn of the heat and mix well. You should have a smooth, bright yellow batch of lentils, with just a hint of integrity.
  4. Heat the oil in a separate pot, add in the onions and cook for about 6 to 7 minutes, until wilted soft and flecked golden.
  5. Add the clarified butter and the cumin seeds and the dried red chilies to the same pan (with the oil) and cook for about a minute, until the cumin seeds darken. Pour the seasoned oil and onion mixture over the lentils. Add some of the lentils into the tempering pan to sop up any remaining bit of flavored oil, then stir back into the larger pot. This is the process of creating the seasoning and tempering the lentils. Garnish with torn cilantro.
  6. Serve with steaming hot rice or freshly made flatbreads.

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