Chef patron at the Saffron group of restaurants in Birmingham and a member of the Craft Guild of Chefs, Sudha Shankar Saha, puts forward his tips on how to put some spice and flavour into red lentils:
1. Soup is a great way to use lentils and one of my particular favourites is Turkey Mulligatawny soup, or ‘Pepper Water’. The word mulligatawny deriving from the Tamil words molegoo (pepper) and tunes (water). It was originally a vegetarian sauce, but I believe it was the British who added meat and various other ingredients to create this variety of mulligatawny.
The main ingredients are red lentils, garlic, ground pepper, curry powder and coconut milk, a granny smith apple, and turkey breast. You’ll start off by heating the spices and the turkey and then add the lentils, any other vegetables, the apple and stock. Cook for around 20 minutes and finally add the coconut milk and some fresh coriander leaves.
2. Red lentils are perfect for starter dishes and are really tasty when served up as Indian dal (lentils) pakoras. The speciality fritters can be made by combining roughly ground half cooked lentils with chopped onion and aromatic spices that include a touch of asafoetida, dried fenugreek leaves and chopped coriander. Bind the mixture using gram flour, deep fry and serve with fruit salsa and salad – drizzled with tamarind coulis, and sprinkle with chat masala.
3. Another fabulous starter option is serving up another Indian classic – khichdi. This traditional rice and lentil dish will make you feel great whatever the weather.
If you want to make it even more interesting add lime juice, salt, cumin and coriander powder to smoked haddock and toss it in a non stick pan with the cooked khichdi. Combine with some black cumin seeds and tempered tomato achar (spicy tomato relish), place grilled scallops on top. The scallops should be marinated with lime juice, salt, cumin, coriander powder, ginger and garlic. Serve this dish up with a mint and coriander dip and you’re onto a sure fire winner.
4. A top lentil based side dish is known as Dal Tadka. This is a red lentil preparation where the lentils are boiled separately. A mix of cumin seeds, red chilli, turmeric powder and coriander powder, along with fresh chopped tomatoes and onions, is then added to enhance the flavour. It goes really well with rice.
5. For my final option I’ve got to go for a curry! Lamb and lentils go fantastically well together. Cook lamb shanks in spiced stock, which contains cumin powder, coriander powder, chilli powder and garam masala powder. Then add the red lentils, onion and tomato sauce. Serve the dish up with pilau rice.