Since moving, I’ve learned that there’s a fat chance of finding decent takeout in this town. The pizza place a half-block away only serves edible food if “the old guy” is working. The Chinese in the same plaza is garbage. There was a good Chinese place about a mile down the road, but in a Shakespearean twist of fate, it burnt down just 2 days after I declared it my go-to. The nearest decent Indian restaurant doesn’t deliver this far out, and while I’ve come to terms with the winter weather, I’m not up to warm up my car and drive a half-hour down cold, dark back roads whenever I get a sudden vindaloo craving.
And so I’ve been cooking at home almost exclusively, using it as an opportunity to make my own comforting, sit-in-sweatpants-and-dig-in kind of meals. Take these Slow Cooker Indian-Spiced Lentils for example. They’re flavorful, rich, hearty, and they warm you right up when the chill starts to set in, plus it doesn’t take much effort at all to make a HUGE batch. Leftovers for days! I’ll just go ahead and give myself another helping.
I never thought that slightly-mashed lentils would fall within the realm of my comfort foods, snuggled up along with my mac n’ cheese, pizza, and other cheesy, doughy dishes. But when seasoned and slow cooked, there’s such a coziness and familiarity to them, as if I’ve been eating them for my whole life. Those of you who’ve had them before know what I mean.
Now, mind you, there are traditional ways to make dahl (Indian lentils), and this recipe is in no way traditional. I don’t toast and then grind my own spice seeds, or use ghee, or employ any of the proper techniques. But what this dish lacks in authenticity, it makes up for in ease– and not for lack of flavor, either. I still use the same signature flavors, just with some Morgan-style simplifying.
To make this dish as simple as possible, I combine the spices and aromatics in a food processor to make a paste that will flavor the base of the lentils. I add the paste to my slow cooker along with my lentils, and then pour in diced tomatoes and plenty of water for the lentils to absorb as they cook. After 8 hours on low (or 4 on high, if I’m impatient), my lentils are soft and easily mashed. It’s not necessary to mash them if you don’t want to, by the way. Many people prefer their dahl to be more soupy or stew-like, and admittedly, it’s probably prettier that way. I like the thicker texture from mashing about half of the lentils, but to each their own!
By the way, I know that it’s not the most photogenic dish, despite the fact that you’ve got such vibrant colors and contrast from the turmeric, curry powder, tomatoes, and cilantro. But you’ve got to trust me here. It’s delicious.
Once I’ve mashed to my heart’s content, I season generously with salt and adjust the other spices to taste, if necessary. Then, if I’m in a mood where I couldn’t care less about calories (and I’m not serving any vegan friends) I mix in some butter and cream to make the lentils ultra-rich. If I’m trying to be healthier, I leave out the butter and opt for coconut milk instead. I love it either way.
Then all that’s left is to serve it over rice with warm naan on the side, sprinkle of cilantro leaves on top, and I’m ready to go to town. I’ve made this recipe for (ok, well, to be honest I’ve served leftovers to) both meat-eaters and vegetarians alike, and everyone always devours it. Give it a go and see for yourself!
- 3 cups red and/or yellow lentils
- 4-6 serrano chiles, depending on heat preference, stemmed and seeded
- 1 large onion, chopped
- 5 cloves garlic
- 3" piece fresh ginger, peeled and roughly chopped
- 2 tablespoons curry powder
- 2 teaspoons ground cumin
- 2 teaspoons ground turmeric
- 1 teaspoon chili powder
- ½ teaspoon granulated sugar
- 1 28 ounce can diced tomatoes
- Kosher salt, to taste
- 4 tablespoons butter, optional
- 14 ounces heavy cream or unsweetened coconut milk
- ¼ cup cilantro leaves
- Freshly squeezed lemon juice, to serve
- Basmati rice, to serve
- Naan, to serve
- In a large bowl, soak the lentils for 10 minutes. Drain and rinse well, and then transfer the lentils to the bowl of the slow cooker.
- Combine the serrano chiles, chopped onion, garlic, ginger, curry powder, cumin, turmeric, chili powder, and sugar in a food processor. Process until the mixture becomes a paste and is well-combined. Transfer the mixture to the slow cooker. Stir in 6 cups of water and the diced tomatoes.
- Cover the slow cooker and cook on high for 4 hours or low for 8 hours, or until the lentils are soft. Season very generously with salt, stir well, and adjust remaining seasonings, to taste. Gently mash about half of the lentils with a mixing spoon.
- Stir in the butter, if desired, and the heavy cream or coconut milk, a bit at a time, until reaching the desired richness and consistency. Mix in the cilantro, saving some to top.
- Serve warm with freshly squeezed lemon, basmati rice, and naan.
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