Coconut Red Lentil Dip

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At our wedding, almost three years ago, Aaron and I gave bookmarks to our guests as tokens of our gratitude. These bookmarks were printed with various lines from a few of our favorite poems. One was the closing stanza of Margaret Atwood’s Variations on the Word Sleep:

I would like to be the air
that inhabits you for a moment
only. I would like to be that unnoticed
& that necessary.

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Lentils are stodgy things, unassuming and cheap. There’s an hippie strain about them, tainted with the implications of under-salted, uniformly brown meals. It’s easy to obsess over the beauty of fresh produce. There’s a vitality, brilliantly colored and beautifully arrayed. If lentils inspire love, it’s the love of gratitude. It’s a long running marriage to an heirloom’s passionate affairs. Lentils are supportive. There is always more they will be willing to give.

Perhaps we ought to celebrate lentils more. Lentils are accessible. They are sustaining. They give, quietly and without complaint, again and again. And they are happy to fade into the background, allowing their more glamorous accompaniments to take the spotlight. They are unnoticed. They are necessary.

In the spirit of generosity I offer this red lentil dip. Earthy from the lentils, sweet from coconut milk, and with a kiss of heat from ginger. My dreams of taking this dip on a picnic were destroyed by Aaron devouring half of it when he arrived home from work. I’m not fond of this habit of assigning any mashed beans the moniker “hummus”, because there’s no tahini and no chickpeas in most. But this is satisfying in the same way as hummus, with a similar texture and similar balance of flavors. And because red lentils are the uncelebrated workhorse of the kitchen, this dip comes together from start to finish in about twenty minutes. Pretty remarkable for something so unnoticed.

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Coconut Red Lentil Dip

Be careful when blending the dip- too fast or too long and it may start to take on paste-y quality. It doesn’t need to be perfectly smooth- in fact, a slightly nubby texture is delightful.

Makes about 2 cups of dip

4 garlic cloves, minced
2 tablespoons minced fresh ginger, peeled
1 tablespoon coconut oil
1 teaspoon ground coriander
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
salt
1 cup red lentils
1 fifteen ounce can coconut milk
4 tablespoons olive oil
juice of 1 lime

to serve

sesame seeds
crackers
vegetables

Melt the coconut oil in a heavy bottomed pot over medium-low heat. Add the garlic and ginger and cook gently for about five minutes, until the garlic and ginger are fragrant but not taking on any color. Add the coriander, black pepper, and 1/2 teaspoon of salt. Stir well, then continue cooking for another minute. Stir in the red lentils until they are coated in the spice and shiny with the oil, then stir in the coconut milk. Bring the mixture to a simmer and stir often, cooking until most of the liquid is absorbed and the lentils are tender but firm, about ten to fifteen minutes. If the liquid is absorbed but the lentils are still hard, add water at half a cup at a time and keep simmering. You don’t want the lentils to dissolve for this.

Transfer your cooked lentils to a blender and blend until the lentils are mashed. While the blender is whirling, add in the olive oil, lime juice, and 1/4 cup of water. Taste, and add any salt you deem necessary. Serve at room temperature, sprinkled with sesame seeds surrounded by crackers and crudités of choice.

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Carrot and Coconut Dal

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Fall is on the edges here in MPLS. Aaron has put our old, ineffective air conditioner back into storage and we’re no longer sleeping with a fan. We’ve made the official switch from serving cold soup to hot soup at work. The temperature falls into the 50s at night, even as it sometimes hits 80 during the afternoon. People are breaking out the flannel and even the occasional puffy vest again. And my old friend, seasonal allergies, has come back for a visit.

I’m not sure what, exactly, I’m allergic to, whatever it is it’s all around. I have the full monty- itchy eyes, runny nose, congestion. And sneezes. Oh, the sneezes. Once they start they just won’t stop. I would describe them in more detail, but this is a food blog whose goal is to make you hungry, not grossed out, so I’ll stop.

I have no objection to taking an allergy pill, but all of ours seem to have disappeared. It’s a temporary problem, as I’m making a Target run tonight. But in the meantime I figured that food, while not able to cure my allergies, certainly couldn’t hurt.

To this effect I give you this carrot and coconut dal. It’s full of the types of food you want to eat while mildly sick- ginger, garlic, onions, turmeric, and black pepper. It’s warming at a time when I want to eat something warm, but still light enough for the end of summer. The red lentils dissolve just enough to bring in a beautiful, soft texture. There’s three types of coconut- oil, milk, and flaked for the topping- to bring some sweetness and creaminess. The whole thing is deeply flavored, slightly tart, bright, and earthy. The spice is there, lingering softly after each bite.

This dal reminds me of the soups that I liked to eat in my college house.We used the heat as sparingly as possible there to save money, and so would wrap ourselves in sweaters and blankets. I almost always had something warm in my hands then, whether it was a bowl of soup or a mug of tea. I also ate most of my meals either perched on the couch next to friends, or lounging on the floor. Vegetables and lentils were cheap, much cheaper than dairy and meat, and so I ate them in abundance. This dal is not the same as I would have made then- it is more subtle in its spicing, and made with a more patience and care. But it has the same sort of warm, earthy, straightforward qualities that I’ve loved in lentil soups, past. I still love the clean goodness of lentils in the present, and am certain I’ll continue to love them in the future.

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Carrot and Coconut Dal

adapted from Good + Simple by Jasmine Hemsley and Melissa Hemsley

If you’d like a spicier dal you could double the chili powder. This dal would be an easy one to make your own by changing the spices- cinnamon, ground mustard, or cumin would all be delicious here.

Serves 4-6

1 tablespoon coconut oil
2 medium onions, diced
2 medium carrots, diced
a 1 inch piece of ginger, peeled and minced
4 garlic cloves, minced
1 tablespoon ground turmeric
1 teaspoon chili powder
2 cups red lentils
4 cups vegetable broth
1 15 ounce can of coconut milk
juice of 1 lemon
1 tablespoon tamari
1 teaspoon of salt, plus more to taste
3/4 teaspoon pepper, plus more to taste
1/4 cup unsweetened flaked coconut, for serving
roughly chopped cilantro, for serving

Heat a dutch oven or other soup-sized pot over medium heat. Add the coconut oil and heat for a minute. Add the onion and carrots and cook, stirring occasionally, until softened but not dark, about 8 to 10 minutes. Add in the ginger, garlic, turmeric, and chili powder and stir well, then cook for another minute. Add the lentils, vegetable broth, and coconut milk. Bring the whole thing to a boil, then reduce the heat to a simmer and cover. Simmer, stirring occasionally, for 20 or so minutes, until the lentils are tender.

While the dal is cooking heat a saucepan over medium heat. Add the coconut and cook, stirring constantly, for two or three minutes, until the coconut is golden and smells toasty. Remove the coconut from the pan and set aside.

Once the lentils are tender add more water if it’s a bit thick- I added a cup of water to mine. Add the lemon juice, tamari, salt, and pepper. Stir well, and taste. Adjust the seasonings as necessary.

Serve hot, topped with the roughly chopped cilantro and the toasted coconut.

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