As with most stews, especially spiced stews, this curried lentil dish really improves in flavour the next day. The spices become smoother and the flavour rounds out somehow. So I recommend making a big batch to freeze or to keep in the fridge and reheat during the week for a filling and delicious weekday lunch!
Time: 45 minutes (+ 7 hour soaking time)
* indicates optional ingredients
330g (1 and a half mugs) of red split lentils
Water and 2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar or lemon juice for soaking
1 litre water
2 tablespoons ghee or coconut oil or cooking fat of choice
1 onion, diced
1 thumb-sized piece of ginger, grated
3 cloves garlic, grated/crushed
1.5 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp ground coriander
1 tsp chilli powder (kashmiri chilli powder is ideal)
0.5 tsp ground turmeric
0.5 tsp black pepper
1 tomato, chopped
300g frozen spinach
2.5 tbsp tamarind paste
1-2 tsp coconut sugar (or other sugar)
1 tin coconut milk
Tarka (tempered spices)*
1 tbsp ghee
1 tsp fennel seeds
1 tsp cumin seeds
8 curry leaves
2 cloves garlic, sliced
Rinse the lentils well under running water. Place them in a large bowl, pour in plenty of water and stir in the apple cider vinegar. Cover with a tea towel and leave in a warm place for about 7 hours to soak. Preparing lentils properly helps to unlock the plethora of nutrients that lentils contain and make them more absorbable for us.
When the lentils are ready, drain away the soaking water and rinse the lentils well. Put them in a pot and add the broth and 1 litre of water. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat and put the lid on with a gap to let some steam escape. Let the lentils simmer away while preparing the rest of the dish.
In another pot, heat up some ghee. Throw in the onion and let it brown, stirring regularly. Add the ginger and garlic, and cook until they no longer smell raw. The key to a good curry is taking time at this stage - this is where the flavour's at!
Add the ground spices. Stir fry them for a few seconds. Then add the tomato. Let the tomato cook down, stirring constantly. Ideally, you want to keep frying until oil releases from the sides of the pan - this is a sign that the spices are releasing their aromatic oils. If you don't have the patience, it's not the end of the world though!
Add the frozen spinach to the pan of lentils and let it thaw out and cook.
When pan with the spices is done and ready, add the lentils and spinach in. Add the coconut milk too. Stir well, bring up to a boil, reduce heat.
Season with salt and add the tangy tamarind paste. Taste for sweetness too - add sugar as necessary.
To make the tarka, heat up the ghee in a small pan. Once it's nice and hot, throw in the garlic. It should sizzle - it's important that the fat is hot. Once the garlic gets some colour, stir in the rest of the ingredients and quickly pour the delicious spice-infused fat into the lentils. Try not to burn the spices!
Have it on its own as a soup, with butter stirred in or with a dollop of yogurt and a sprinkle of coriander, or serve with bread, rice, or with other curries as part of a thali. Enjoy!