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What is a beautiful shade of orange, warmly spiced, hearty, creamy, and isn’t pumpkin? It’s called Masoor Dal, or Red Split Lentils. With Cabbage. File this one under “Perfect Weeknight Meals for Fall.”

I’ve mentioned before that we like to keep our meals relatively cheap. This means I have a cupboard stocked with various bags of dried beans, a heart full of good intent, and very little idea of what to make with them. There is something very appealing to me about starting with something so wholesome; taking the time to soak, simmer, season; and ending up with a satisfying meal. Part of what appeals to me is the foresight it takes to do that. Ah, ever-elusive foresight!

With the emergence of sweaters, wool socks, and pumpkins, I’m also smitten with the image of a pot of beans simmering on the stove, as the air outside turns crisp, the days grow short, and the trees across the way turn golden. Can’t you just picture it? How much more perfectly “fall” can you get? Thanks to masoor dal (which requires no soaking!), I was able to live out this image on a chilly October day.

A staple of Indian, Nepali, Pakistani, Sri Lankan, West Indian, and Bangladeshi cuisine, dal is basically just a stew made from split beans. (Yes, I took that directly from Wikipedia. And Google, how well do you know me by now? You should know when I type “dal” I mean “dal,” the slightly obscure Indian dish, not “Dallas,” city in Texas, home of that one football team.) I suppose you could sub in any split lentils or peas, but the red lentils here are what give the dish its beautiful orange hue. It’s also flecked with red from one tomato, and little slivers of green from a thinly sliced jalapeno. I think it’s really pretty, and if you’re not familiar with Indian food, this is a good introduction to it, because visually it converts your mind from “big serving of mushy food” to “vibrant, richly flavored creamy sauce enrobing tender shreds of cabbage and onion!” It’s a gentle push into the world of cumin, curry, and chiles, into which I’m only beginning to venture myself.

What I mean is, it’s pretty kid-friendly. William said, “It has good flavor!” (Incidentally, that’s the same thing he said about the higher-sugar breakfast cereal I bought recently.) Even the baby liked it. Though I mentioned there’s a jalapeno in there, it’s not too spicy. As with anything involving chiles, it is adjustable–I deseeded half of my jalapeno. Also, my jalapeno had been aging in the fridge a week or two; I don’t know if that made any difference in the heat, but the dish turned out fairly mild. I served it with pre-cooked frozen brown rice–you know, because I have no foresight–with a couple handfuls of peas thrown in, and some naan that I had tucked away in the freezer for a meal like this. Oh, and I made myself a cup of hot chai, because it seemed like the right way to end a lovely fall meal.

Masoor Dal (Red Split Lentils with Cabbage)
Adapted, very slightly, from Smitten Kitchen; Originally from Madhur Jaffrey, Indian Cooking
Serves 4 to 6

The lentils cook long enough that you can get away with waiting to do all your slicing and such after they are underway. If you prefer to prep everything before you begin, you’ll have about ten minutes of active cooking of the cabbage mixture and then have some time to relax before you come back to add it all to the pot of lentils. That’s why I split up the ingredients list like this. The tomato, ginger, and 1/4 teaspoon salt can be prepped and kept in the same bowl; and the cabbage, onion, and jalapenos can also be put together (I used my colander to hold them, it was already “dirty” from rinsing lentils). Also note the two different measurements of salt. Of course, you should always read over the recipe before you begin, but do let me know in the comments if this type of breakdown is helpful.

  • 1 1/4 cups red split lentils, picked over, washed, and drained
  • 5 cups water
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground turmeric
  • 1 medium tomato, finely chopped
  • 1/2 teaspoon peeled, finely grated fresh ginger
  • 1 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 5 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 1 teaspoon cumin seeds
  • 2 to 4 cloves garlic, finely chopped (I went for the middle ground and used 3)
  • 1 medium onion, peeled and sliced thin from pole to pole
  • 1/2 pound cored and finely sliced cabbage (I found that this was about 1/4 of a supermarket head of cabbage. Going to have to figure out another thing to make with the rest of that cabbage. Good thing it’s cheap!)
  • 1 to 2 jalapenos, stems removed, halved and finely sliced (I used one old jalapeno with half the seeds removed for a pretty mild dish)
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  1. Put lentils and water into a heavy pot and bring to a boil. Remove any scum that collects at the top.
  2. Add the turmeric and stir to mix. Cover, leaving the lid very slightly ajar, turn heat to low, and simmer gently for 1 1/4 hours. Stir a few times in the last 30 minutes of cooking.
  3. When the lentils are underway, prepare the rest of the ingredients (see headnote). Heat oil in a skillet (at least 9-inch) over medium heat. When hot, add the cumin seeds and let them sizzle for 3 to 4 seconds.
  4. Add the garlic and watch carefully; as soon as it begins to brown, add the cabbage, onion, and jalapenos.
  5. Stir-fry the cabbage mixture for about 10 minutes until tender-crisp, or longer if you prefer more tender cabbage. (This will probably vary due to the thickness of your shreds and the heat of your stovetop. Feel free to increase the heat to medium-high, as I probably should have done from the get-go as I suspect my stovetop runs cool.)
  6. Stir in 1/4 teaspoon of salt and remove from heat.
  7. When the lentils have cooked 1 1/4 hours, mix in the tomato, ginger, and remaining 1 1/4 teaspoon salt. Cover and cook another 10 minutes.
  8. Add the cabbage mixture and and remaining oil in the frying pan and stir to mix. If necessary, bring to a simmer for a few minutes to heat cabbage through.
  9. Excellent served with rice, vegetables, and Indian bread such as naan or roti, especially on a crisp October evening.