Lentil and Basmati Salad with Tamarind, Coconut, and Cilantro

December 29, 2010
9 Ratings
Photo by Mark Weinberg
  • Prep time 5 minutes
  • Cook time 27 minutes
  • Serves 4 to 6
Author Notes

About a month ago, I took a wonderful vegetarian Indian cooking class. Everything we made (lentil sambar, vegetable biryani, potato curry, tomato chutney) was delicious, but the dish that knocked my socks off in terms of subtle, yet amazing flavor was a simple mung bean salad with lemon, coconut, cilantro, black mustard, and curry leaf. Here is my version, using du Puy lentils (the mung beans still had a bite to them so I wanted to use a lentil that held its shape) and basmati rice for a complete protein. I have kept the coconut and cilantro but changed up the tempered dressing using tamarind paste and black caraway seeds for sour and nutty notes. The end result is a refreshing salad that is easy to make, flavorful, and equally delicious the next day.

Note: If refrigerating overnight, be sure to allow dish to come to room temperature before serving. —gingerroot

Test Kitchen Notes

WHO: Gingerroot is an art teacher living in Honolulu, HI.
WHAT: A hearty but refreshing Indian salad.
HOW: To make the dressing, mix black caraway seeds fried in vegetable oil with tamarind paste and water. Toss with cooked rice and lentils, then fold in cilantro, coconut, lime juice, and salt.
WHY WE LOVE IT: This salad is easy to pull together, especially if you're already stocked with Indian ingredients. While the tamarind dressing is sour, the nigella seeds gives the dressing depth, and the entire salad is lightened by the lime juice and cilantro. The resulting salad is balanced, subtle, and addicting -- we dare you to put your fork down after the first bite. —The Editors

What You'll Need
  • For the lentil-rice salad:
  • 1 cup basmati rice, rinsed
  • 1/2 cup du Puy lentils (also known as French lentils), rinsed and picked through
  • 2 1/4 cups water
  • 1/3 cup plus 1 tablespoon chopped fresh cilantro, including stems
  • 1/4 cup shredded unsweetened coconut
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt, to taste
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons lime juice
  • For the dressing:
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 1 teaspoon black caraway seeds (also known as nigella seeds)
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons tamarind paste (I used Neera’s brand)
  • 3 teaspoons water
  • 1 pinch Salt, to taste
  1. In a small saucepan, combine rice, lentils and water. Cover and bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer and cook until tender and water has evaporated, about 25 minutes. Fluff and transfer to a large bowl to cool.
  2. In a skillet, temper dressing by heating vegetable oil over medium heat. Add black caraway seeds and cook for about 1 minute. Seeds should sputter a bit. Remove from heat. Add tamarind paste and water, stirring to combine.
  3. Pour dressing over rice and fold to mix thoroughly. Fold in coconut and cilantro. Add lime juice and salt to taste. Transfer to a serving bowl. Serve warm or at room temperature. Enjoy!

See what other Food52ers are saying.

  • Änneken
  • Sherry E
    Sherry E
  • Claudia Auger
    Claudia Auger
  • Lizzie Deroy
    Lizzie Deroy
  • CuriousH

Recipe by: gingerroot

My most vivid childhood memories have to do with family and food. As a kid, I had the good fortune of having a mom who always encouraged trying new things, and two grandmothers who invited me into their kitchens at a young age. I enjoy cooking for the joy it brings me - sharing food with loved ones - and as a stress release. I turn to it equally during good times and bad. Now that I have two young children, I try to be conscientious about what we cook and eat. Right about the time I joined food52, I planted my first raised bed garden and joined a CSA; between the two I try to cook as sustainably and organically as I can. Although I'm usually cooking alone, my children are my favorite kitchen companions and I love cooking with them. I hope when they are grown they will look back fondly at our time spent in the kitchen, as they teach their loved ones about food-love. Best of all, after years on the mainland for college and graduate school, I get to eat and cook and raise my children in my hometown of Honolulu, HI. When I'm not cooking, I am helping others grow their own organic food or teaching schoolchildren about art.

45 Reviews

Änneken December 25, 2020
I only made the dressing (which I poured over cooked brown rice) and it was delish!! Tamarind and nigella seeds are a beautiful combo!
Gypsa May 20, 2020
The flavors were delicious but my dish turned into mush at the end as well. I will cook the lentils and rice separately as I have always done before.
gingerroot May 21, 2020
Thanks for your note and for giving this a try! Sorry your dish turned to mush. I made it again recently and it came out okay. Hope you make it again, rice and lentils separately.
Gypsa May 20, 2020
The flavors were delicious but my dish turned into mush at the end as well. I will cook the lentils and rice separately as I have always done before.
Katherine K. May 17, 2019
RE: Step 1: followed instructions to the letter w/rinsed basmati & du Puy lentils, specified amt of water, covered small saucepan, etc. Nothing unusual about my stove. Water had evaporated completely in under 20 min and mixture was tasteless mush--had to discard. Very disappointed. Am experienced Indian food cook/traveler. Any advice?
Sherry E. June 11, 2018
by any stretch of the imagination would pomegranate molasses sub for tamarind? or totally different flavor profile? subs suggested? also if I cannot use cilantro, whats a sub
gingerroot June 12, 2018
Hi Sherry E! Pomegranate molasses is quite a bit sweeter than tamarind so it would skew the flavor profile from sour to sweet. I can imagine it might work with the coconut. Italian parsley would be the closest cilantro sub that I can think of - it will give it a cleaner green flavor. Let me know if you give it a try - would love to hear your thoughts with those subs.
Sherry E. June 12, 2018
thank you gingerroot, is there a sub for tamarind?
hf December 2, 2015
This recipe has become a regular! It's so delicious, easy, healthy, and I almost always have the ingredients on-hand. I've made it about ten times already, and the eleventh is on the stove now, smelling delish. Thank you for sharing!!
gingerroot December 2, 2015
Hi hf,
You are so welcome! I'm so happy to hear that you enjoy this recipe. Cheers!
Claudia A. November 7, 2015
I live in Bali, Indonesia and du Puy lentils aren't available here, but mung beans are. Should I sub the same amount of mung beans? Also, I have a curry leaf tree in my garden. Should I simply add a small handful when cooking the rice and beans? Thank you, I'm looking forward to trying this!
gingerroot November 9, 2015
Hi Claudia, thanks for your note. Although I've only used lentils in this recipe, I think that subbing an equal amount of mung beans would work. You could add the curry leaves with the rice and beans, or with the black caraway seeds, before adding the tamarind paste.
Lizzie D. August 2, 2015
This is absolutely delicious. Thank you so much for sharing the recipe.
gingerroot August 3, 2015
Hi Lizzie, you're welcome!! Thanks so much for letting me know. I'm thrilled you enjoyed it. Cheers!
NC April 6, 2015
I am definitely going to make this later in the week but just one comment, Nigella seeds are really an onion seed more mild and different from black caraway. If you can find both and look at them, they are distinct. Nigella are used in Armenian or mid eastern string cheese which is where I first noticed the difference. I have found they are often conflated with each other but be aware they are different and have different flavors. Either would be great here I am sure!
CuriousH March 12, 2015
Amazing flavor! Definitely will make this again. One complaint: the lentils were completely undercooked, though I followed the recipe precisely. What did I do wrong???
gingerroot March 13, 2015
Hi CuriousH, thanks for trying this! My guess would be that your lentils might have been a little older - like with dried beans, pulses that are older can take a little longer to cook. I've made this many times and they are always cooked between the 25-30 minute mark. I hope you give it another try!
Vivi B. March 6, 2015
I loved it as written (big cumin and nigella seed fan) but was thinking that the next time I make it I would add ginger and green chili peppers to the oil and nigella seeds in the pan.
gingerroot March 13, 2015
Mmm...I love the idea of tempering garlic and chili with the nigella! Glad you enjoyed this, Vivi B.!
Regine March 6, 2015
Hi GingerRoot, I have yet to try remaking this dish with mustard seeds, but I use mustard seeds all the time (sauteed in oil for my lentil soup and even in a rice dish) and I find it very mild. I do not like cumin either so I am not surprised I do not love caraway seeds either LOL, since I see they are "relatives."But as someone wrote (Scribbles), this is a great recipe to use as a "jumping off point." I could see myself remaking the dish but without the caraway seeds, and maybe even add some crushed garlic. Next time you make it, do try some turmeric. It does not necessary enhance flavor since turmeric is mild, but it adds a nice yellowish color to the dish; and it is supposed to be a very good spice for one's immune system.
Scribbles March 6, 2015
This was an interesting dish. While I enjoyed the flavors, I'd never had the black caraway seeds, I'm not sure I would make this specific dish again but rather use it as a jumping off point.
gingerroot March 6, 2015
Hi Scribbles, thanks so much for trying this and letting me know. I'd love to hear what direction you take this!
healthierkitchen March 5, 2015
Another great recipe!! congrats!
gingerroot March 6, 2015
Thank you, Wendy!!
Regine March 5, 2015
Correction to prior comment. I meant to write "may" not "main."
Regine March 5, 2015
This was very easy and quick to make. But I confess I am not fond of the flavor of caraway seeds. Next time I main replace it with mustard seeds whose flavor I find much milder. I also added some turneric to brighten color of the dish.
gingerroot March 6, 2015
Hi Regine, I'd love to hear your thoughts if you try it with mustard. To my palate, black caraway (also know as kalonji, nigella, black cumin) tastes slightly milder than mustard seeds and very different from regular caraway seeds. Thanks for trying it!
Vivi B. March 5, 2015
I happened to have all the ingredients on hand and made it this morning when I got up. It is quick and easy. Having it now for breakfast and it is delish!
gingerroot March 6, 2015
Thanks for letting me know, Vivi B.! So glad you enjoyed it.
Regine March 4, 2015
Congrats! Looks like you are now sending me to the supermarket so that I can buy the ingredients and prepare for dinner tonight or sometime this week.
gingerroot March 5, 2015
Aw, thank you Regine. I hope you enjoy it!
EmilyC February 26, 2015
Yay Jenny! I have some tamarind languishing in my pantry -- now I'm excited to use it! Congrats!
gingerroot February 27, 2015
Thanks, Emily! I hope you enjoy it - let me know what you think.
Midge February 26, 2015
Congrats gingerroot! Cannot wait to give this a go.
gingerroot February 27, 2015
Thank you, Midge!