Sweet-Tart Split Green Lentils with Mustard (Moong Nu Dal)

I got this Indian cookbook called 660 Curries a while back, but I never made anything from it because it called for very "authentic" (i.e., hard to find) ingredients. Well, over the New Year's weekend, we had a house guest who wanted to cook Indian food for us, so he and I got on the Google and figured out where the nearest Indian market was. Only 15 minutes from my apartment! Very exciting. While we were there, I picked up a few of the ingredients I remembered seeing listed in the cookbook: mainly whole cumin seeds and various types of dal (lentils).

That inspired me to try out my first 660 Curries recipe. To do so, I had to track down a couple more ingredients, which I was able to find at my neighborhood health food store: mustard seeds and asafetida. (A note about asafetida -- this is the most pungent smelling stuff I have ever had the chance to sniff. I literally had to hold the jar at arm's length because it was so strong. The tiniest pinch in a dish will suffice to give it a garlicky, savory flavor and aroma, but if you don't want to bother trying to find a jar of it, you can omit it.)

Well, I was super pleased with how this dish came out. It's got tons of amazing flavor and tasted really authentic (no quotation marks this time). I would say it's absolutely worth tracking down an Indian market so you can make it too -- there's probably one in your neighborhood, and you just never knew it.

Sweet-Tart Split Green Lentils with Mustard (Moong Nu Dal)
Paraphrased from 660 Curries
  • 1 cup skinned split green lentils (moong dal)
  • 2 tablespoons ghee or canola oil
  • 1 teaspoon mustard seeds (black or yellow)
  • 2 teaspoons cumin seeds
  • 2 teaspoons coarse kosher or sea salt
  • 1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground turmeric
  • The tiniest pinch of asafetida
  • 1 large tomato, cored and finely chopped, or 1 can of diced tomatoes
  • 1 tablespoon dark brown sugar
  • 1/4 cup finely chopped fresh cilantro leaves
  • Basmati rice
Cook rice according to package instructions. If you want to get creative with it, throw into the rice pot a couple whole cardamom pods, cumin seeds, and/or whole cloves (and a big pinch of salt). Remove the cardamom and cloves when the rice is done cooking (you can leave the cumin seeds in there since they're small).

Meanwhile, prepare the lentils. Place the lentils in a medium saucepan. Fill the pan partway with water and rinse the lentils by rubbing them between your fingers. The water will become cloudy. Drain this water. Repeat three or four times, until the water remains relatively clear; drain. Now add 3 cups water and bring to a boil, uncovered, over medium heat. Skim off and discard any foam. Continue simmering vigorously, uncovered, stirring occasionally, until the lentils are barely tender, 10 to 12 minutes.

While the lentils are cooking, heat a small skillet over medium-high heat and pour in the ghee or oil. Add the mustard seeds, cover the skillet, and cook until the seeds have stopped popping (kind of like popcorn), about 30 seconds. Sprinkle in the cumin seeds and cook until they turn reddish brown, about 5 seconds. Immediately add the salt, cayenne, turmeric, and asafetida. Cook for no more than 5 seconds, and then add the tomato, brown sugar, and cilantro. Simmer, uncovered, over medium heat until the tomato pieces appear saucelike, 2 to 3 minutes.

Once the lentils are barely tender, add this slightly chunky tomato sauce to the pan, stir once or twice, and reduce the heat to medium-low. Cover the pan and simmer, stirring occasionally, until the dal has absorbed the flavors, 5 to 7 minutes. Serve with rice.