This lentils are not glamorous. They aren’t beautiful. There’s no clever flavor combinations and no personal backstory to these lentils. But I’ve made them three times in the past week, and it seems selfish to keep them to myself.
The inspiration for these lentils comes from The Vegetarian Flavor Bible, which I was browsing for ideas for a different dish. In a tidbit next to black lentils there was a quote from Hemant Mathur, a highly accomplished chef in New York. He describes learning in Delhi to cooking black lentils, then season them with ginger, garlic paste, tomatoes, chili powder, butter, and cream. They were so popular at the restaurant he them worked at that they’d make 50 pounds a day. With that promise I had to go about finding a way to make them myself.
In the interest of making the lentils immediately without a trip to the store I swapped the garlic paste for gently cooked onion, ginger for powdered ginger, and tomatoes for tomato paste. I made these first with black lentils, the beautiful jewels of the legume world. They are stunning, keep their shape when cooked, and are as expensive and rare as lentils come (which is not to say that they are expensive or rare, but more so than the common green lentil). When I ran out of black lentils, I substituted the common green lentil, and found that while the finished dish is less lovely, I liked the soft earthy notes green lentils bring even more.
This is a rich dish. There’s no two ways about it. But it’s such a lovely way to eat lentils. They are creamy and soft, cloaked in savory tomato, bright ginger, and warming chili powder. I’ve been making them for lunch, and then scraping the sauce pot clean with my spoon once the lentils are gone. They’re that good.
Creamed Lentils with Tomato Paste and Ginger
I just discovered slow-simmering lentils, and I don’t think I’ll cook them any other way. You simply soak the lentils overnight, bring to a boil, and then cook them (without salt!) on the lowest setting your stove can manage for an hour or two. The lentils end up perfectly tender and have yet to burst on me. Of course, these creamed lentils would still be excellent with lentils cooked according to any technique.
adapted form Hermant Mathur via The Vegetarian Flavor Bible
1 1/2 tablespoons butter, divided
1/2 an onion, diced
1 1/2 tablespoon tomato paste
1 teaspoon powdered ginger
1/2 teaspoon chili powder
1 1/2 cup cooked lentils, drained
3/4 cup cream
1/2 teaspoon salt
In a sauce pan over medium heat melt 1 tablespoon of butter. Add the onion and a pinch of salt, and cook, stirring often until the onions are soft and have taken on some color. Add the tomato paste, powdered ginger, chili powder, and 1/2 teaspoon of salt. Stir well, and cook for another minute or so, until fragrant.
Stir in the cooked lentils and the cream. Use a wooden spoon to scrape up any flavorful dark bits on the bottom. Let the cream cook, stirring occasionally, until it is reduced and saucy. This should only take 5 minutes or so, so pay close attention.
Taste the lentils, add more salt as necessary, and then stir in the final half tablespoon of butter. Serve hot.