The Lentil Cure

March 13, 2011

Some of you may know that my husband hails from India. South India, to be exact. Until I fell for him–viciously–I really didn’t understand much about India. Or Indian food, for that matter. I’d eaten it plenty of times, and deemed it delicious, but I didn’t realize that the chicken korma I was slurping down fortnightly wasn’t indigenous to all Indian people. Apparently, different regions in India have different styles of cooking. Me=Dumbass.

It’s sensible as grade school math if you really think about it–India is GI-normous. Of course there are going to be differences from region to region. Chalk it up to my American ignorance.  Hey, a girl’s gotta learn sometime, right?

Climate-wise, South India is Hella hot. I mean, most of India is pretty darn balmy, but the South? Hoo-boy. And you know what’s funny about those steamy Asian countries? The hotter the region, the spicier the food. So okay, maybe if you eat food that burns your eyeballs, you’ll sweat a lot and cool down…I suppose it makes sense in some weird masochistic way. But me? If I lived somewhere where I constantly broke a sweat, I think I’d live on Slurpees.

South India is also home to a lot of vegetarians. My husband’s mother isn’t strictly vegetarian, but in general, she eats very little meat. Beef is completely out, and I don’t believe I’ve ever seen her eat pork, either. She will dabble with chicken or seafood, but really, it’s more of a garnish for her than a staple.

Since she’s not really of the carnivorous persuasion, my mother-in-law knows her way around a veggie. In the past, I’ve called her The Veggie Whisperer and it’s not an overstatement.

She’s also pretty  handy with a lentil. I think there is nothing more comforting than tucking into a bowl of her warm dal, fragrant with spice and ginger, stirring in dollops of plain yogurt to temper the heat.  It’s nourishing and simple and, in times of stress, just what I want to eat.

There’s a leeetle problem, though.

The sight of lentils make my husband–and everyone else in my family–gag.

It’s not just the color of them that’s a turn-off, although lentils of the brown persuasion are not visions of gustatory beauty, that’s for sure.

Nobody’s ever come across a bowl of steaming, dung-colored lentils and said, “Now that’s something I want to eat.”

However, lentils also come in pretty shades of red, and yellow, and even orange-ish pink. I didn’t know about those varieties until I met my husband–American ignorance again–but I think those kinds of lentils are good looking.

^kinda pretty pink dal on the right there, wouldn’t you say?

Alas, my husband doesn’t like the pretty kinds of lentils, either.

So here I am, alone in Lentil Love at my house.

I am also a lazy slob, so I never make lentils for just myself, which is a shame. Lentils are cheap, filling and chock-full of protein; plus, leftovers store well, so what’s keeping me (other than sloth)?

For the last few weeks, I haven’t been feeling well.  When I haven’t been outright sick, I’ve been soul-sick, winter-sick, heart-sick, stress-sick. That’s a lot of -icks, don’t you think?

When I have the -icks, I don’t feel like cooking. Or eating, for that matter. My tastebuds get peevish and my hands get lazy and my creativity waves Adios. Food merely becomes fuel. It’s a depressing thing for everyone involved, but I get particularly morose.

What good is a food blogger without any interest in food?

Not much, turns out.

My Leaning Tower of Food Rags sits neglected, collecting dust. Sometimes I’ll pick one up, flip the pages half-heartedly, and abandon the enterprise.  There’s nothing, honestly, I’m excited to eat.

I was riffling through the pantry the other day, fingering another box of mac and cheese, when I came upon a plain plastic bag half-filled with brown lentils. Lord knows why I had them in there, or how long they’d been occupying shelf space, but there they were. What can I say? Weird things happen in my house: chicken disappears, lentils show up. It’s a bafflement.

Perhaps more astonishing than their appearance was my sudden desire to cook them. So I did. My stomach was still a little testy, so I didn’t want to prepare them a’la South Indian, but I scanned a few cookbooks and settled on this version.

I actually didn’t tinker too much with the recipe; I added some diced aromatics (onion, celery and carrot) and stirred in some spinach that was malingering in the crisper, and squirted some lemon for luck, but otherwise, I stayed pretty true to the recipe. I think this is a forgiving method, though; as long as you keep the lentil-to-liquid ratio true to what’s written, I think you can toss in just about any odd or end you’ve got hanging around and it’ll be lovely.

I spooned a few big dollops into a bowl, curled up on the couch and called it lunch. It didn’t fully cure the -icks, but it took some of the sting away, and that’s a pretty good deal. I’ll take it. Honest truth: these aren’t good lookin’.  They’re brown, you know.  But if you’re a lentil lover like me, they’re good medicine.

Spiced Lentils

adapted slightly from Gourmet Today

serves 4 to 6 as a side

2 tablespoons coriander seeds

1 teaspoon cumin seeds

1 1/2 teaspoons fennel seeds

1/4 teaspoon turmeric

1/4 teaspoon ground ginger

1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/4 teaspoon ground allspice

1/4 teaspoon cayenne powder

1 1/2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

1 1/2 tablespoons finely chopped garlic

1/4 cup finely diced onion

1/4 cup finely diced carrot

1/4 cup finely diced celery

1/2 cup drained, chopped tomatoes (canned are fine)

1 tablespoon finely grated peeled fresh ginger, divided

1 1/3 cups small French green lentils (or brown, if those are what you’ve got)

5 cups water

2 cups fresh spinach, lightly chopped

1/2 teaspoon coarse sea salt

squeeze of lemon

Toast coriander, cumin and fennel seeds in a dry heavy skillet over moderate heat, stirring, until fragrant and a shade darker, about 2 minutes. Grind toasted spices in a spice grinder or mash with a mortar and pestle. Stir together with the remaining spices in a small bowl.

Heat oil in a heavy 3-quart saucepan over medium-high heat. Add garlic and cook, stirring constantly, 30 seconds, making sure that garlic does not burn. Add onion, carrot and celery and cook until translucent, about 5 minutes. Add spice mixture and cook, stirring, about 1 minute. Add tomatoes and half of the ginger, stirring, about 2 minutes.

Add lentils and water; bring to a boil. Turn down heat to a simmer and cook, partially covered, over low heat until lentils are quite tender but not falling apart, about 30 minutes. Stir in the spinach, sea salt and remaining ginger. Turn off the heat and let stand, covered, for 15 minutes.

You can serve the lentils with a slotted spoon, leaving most of liquid behind, or if you like a more soupy texture, serve it as is,  in bowls.

It’s delicious over rice with a spoonful of yogurt for a vegetarian meal, or as a side to lamb, pork, chicken or– Hell–dang near anything.

{ 56 comments… read them below or add one }

Kelly March 13, 2011 at 8:18 pm

I am not a bean fan so I’ve always balked at lentils … until I tried lentil soup a few years back and fell in love. Salty, warm bowls of heaven. I still stick to the basic soup, but I bet your spiced ones are tasty, too.


Christine @ Coffees & Commutes March 14, 2011 at 4:42 am

Like Kelly, I LOVE LOVE lentil soup. Mmmmm, mmmmm.

I’m certain I’ll love this recipe too. My children won’t touch it, but my husband certainly will so I’m adding it to the menu for this week.

Thinking of you lovely lady.


jc March 13, 2011 at 8:54 pm

I dated an Indian dude while away at a college internship. He was a chef at a fancypants place. I was a waitress. He wanted to cook me something, and I told him NO SPICY HOT STUFF. He swore to me that it wasn’t hot. MY TONGUE and NOSTRILS INCINERATED upon impact. I turned bright red, my nose and eyes were running like a fountain, and I about killed him dead. Good thing he brought home a pie and ice cream, because I took my fork to it and that was my dinner. Turned out, he was also from South India. Me=Also Dumbass.


bryan March 14, 2011 at 3:00 am

Sorry you have been having a case of the multiple -icks I hope that spring will bring around the happiness that you so deserve! On the selfish side… you have given us some rockin comfort food recipes when you have been down ;~)


Katybeth March 14, 2011 at 5:52 am

I am sorry you have not bean feeling all that well–Do hope before long you are out having a gas.
My kid will eat anything; Recently he had dinner at a friends house and the friends grandmother was visiting from India–When he came home I asked them what they had for dinner and was told something brown and rather goopey in a bowl with sour cream on top. Not everyone had some but he loved it….Granny was very pleased. My kid told me it was very delicious–we should try to make it sometime. . . mmmm I gave him the old, “We will see….”

Lentils. Me? Not so much so.


TKW March 14, 2011 at 11:17 am


Your kid makes me wicked proud!


Wendi @ Bon Appetit Hon March 14, 2011 at 6:28 am

Kitch, I hope spring chases away the -icks. I’m learning to love the lentil…but only the pretty french green ones. I can’t embrace the texture of the other ones. Is it possible that I’m a texture snob?


rebecca @ atlared spaces March 14, 2011 at 6:39 am

Fennel. Allspice. These are my friends of late. I’m drinking spice water. I dunno. Just my thing, I guess. So, when I saw them here, marching with protein, I said, gimme some. My vegetarian daughter will be delighted.


Erica@PLRH March 14, 2011 at 6:43 am

I like lentils too and this sounds like a good cure for the -icks. Must give it a try this week. None of the Indian food I’ve tried so far has won me over. Something about the combination of spices that my American tastebuds can’t adjust to.

Where did you get the tulip bowl in the photo? I now have the set my mother had when we were kids.

Feel better!


TKW March 14, 2011 at 6:46 am


The tulip bowls came from my mother, too! No idea where she got them. :)


Justine March 14, 2011 at 7:58 am

Oooh, I would so share this dish with you. Sounds yummy!

My mom’s side of the family hails from South India too so I’m familiar with lentils and keep a few varieties at home myself. From dal to sambar or sometimes even a veggie chili, they’re useful to have around on days that I just don’t feel like having meat, which happens to be often. In fact, I have spicesd cabbage and lentils on the menu this week, so we’re on some kind of legume parallel universe.


TKW March 15, 2011 at 7:33 am

Legume parallel universe made me laugh! I DO watch a lot of “Fringe.”


Biz March 14, 2011 at 8:00 am

Almost everything I make, my family wants to throw up in their mouth – chicken tikka masala, quinoa meatballs, zucchini lasagna – now I can add lentils to that list because I love them, they don’t!

I’ll be sure to give Tony an extra hug tonight from you!


Mary Lee March 14, 2011 at 8:25 am

Ooooh, thank you… we’ll love this!!
Have I told you that I took a vegetarian Indian cooking course when we lived in Wisconsin? I loved every dish we prepared. The one that I have prepared most often in the ensuing years is alu mater. It’s quick, delicious, and one almost always has potatoes and frozen peas on hand.

I take it that your family remained unmoved in their lentil hate? I know we’ll like it–the spices are the ones I use in the alu mater.


Jennifer March 14, 2011 at 8:39 am

I’ve never had lentils (that I can remember), but I love beans so I’m sure I would like them. Actually I’ve got a hankering for some beans right now and I meant to soak some last night but completely forgot with the daylight savings time induced exhaustion. But one day this week we will be sitting down to some beans and rice at my house.


SuziCate March 14, 2011 at 8:48 am

Never had lentils until a few years ago…my eldery Italian friends cooks with them a lot…liked them but have never tried to cook them as my family claims they don’t like them. Yours sound tasty though.


Pam March 14, 2011 at 9:34 am

So we have been doing a lot of dabbling in Indian and Ethiopian foods – using lentils, (well, spousal unit dabbles, and I direct said dabbling by suggesting foods). I’ll have to add this to his list!

Now – more importantly, have you taken the girls to India? And if so, how did that go?


TKW March 14, 2011 at 11:18 am


No WAY are we braving that long flight until they are much, much older!


Jenna March 14, 2011 at 9:41 am

I think those lentils sound delish. The ugliness of lentils has never ever deterred me from loving them. In fact, lentil stew was my favorite cafeteria dish in 7th grade. I love it made French style with thyme and red wine vinegar and a piece of salmon slapped on top; I love it Indian style with ginger and garlic and spices; I love it Spanish style with tomatoes and onions; I love it Bulgarian style with mint and veggies. Lentils = the best.


Futureblackmail March 14, 2011 at 9:41 am

I hope you find yourself a lot less “-ick” sooner rather than later!


Tiffany March 14, 2011 at 12:08 pm

This: “When I haven’t been outright sick, I’ve been soul-sick, winter-sick, heart-sick, stress-sick. ” sounds like me. I feel horrid. Maybe I need some lentils too.


Gale March 14, 2011 at 1:02 pm

I love Indian food. And I’ll cook just about anything. But (confession) Indian scares me. I’m just positive I’ll screw it up. I’ve never invested in all the spices because I’m sure it’s not worth it, even though I’ve read time and again that once you have them stocked it’s easy stuff to make. Is that true? Also, do you have a good Indian cookbook that you’d recommend? I know Madhur Jaffrey has written about a thousand of them, but I don’t know enough about Indian cooking to tell which ones are good. Help!!!


TKW March 14, 2011 at 4:35 pm


You are never in poor hands with Jaffrey, but my go-to cookbook is Curried Favors by Maya Kaimal MacMillan. It won a Julia Child Award and has a broad range of recipes, and most of them are pretty accessible.


subWOW March 14, 2011 at 4:10 pm

I know I am committing some sort of crime of stereotyping others’ cultures when I found myself surprised by the fact that your husband HATES lentils. My SIL’s (her parents’ really) house has lentil dishes on the table every single day. They just turned vegan and I believe the love for lentil and the awesomeness of lentil make it a lot easier to be vegan. You get to worry less about protein intakes etc. when you are packing in lentils.

By the way, I think I am more surprised by the fact that people actually do make lunch for themselves even if they are by themselves. WOW. :-)


TKW March 15, 2011 at 7:35 am


Don’t be too impressed. Lunch is usually a fistful of Fritos and some cottage cheese :)


elizabeth March 14, 2011 at 4:48 pm

OK–you HAVE to try Anne Burrell’s braised lentils–the bacon alone will convert anyone into a lentil lover, and with some garlic grated into Greek-style yogurt, it turns into a creamy (yet not sinful–thank you 0% Chobani!) comfort fest of epic proportions. And adding in freshly sauteed vegetables at the end adds delicious texture and color to the French green lentils.

Michael makes this all the time and it’s gotten me to eat my vegetables.


TKW March 15, 2011 at 7:36 am


You had me at Burrell (love her) and bacon! I’ll be making this for sure!


Jane March 14, 2011 at 5:56 pm

I actually love my lentil soup recipe and have tried getting my family to eat a lentils over rice dish – to no avail. Maybe my recipe didn’t pack enough flavor because this one seems to. I’m going back to the saucepan to try this again. Thanks!


Dawn March 14, 2011 at 6:18 pm

I used to find red lentils at the grocery store and cook them. Haven’t been able to find them in years…the recipe you provided sounds kind of good…Should try it this weekend…don’t you think?


TKW March 15, 2011 at 7:37 am


The only place my grocery store has them is in the bulk foods section. Maybe try looking there?


Heather March 14, 2011 at 6:35 pm

We just did lentil soup last night. Perhaps we’re all feeling a little Lentil love here too! Hope your icks take an ike – I mean hike – really soon!!!


Privilege of Parenting March 14, 2011 at 7:56 pm

I love lentils… so this will inspire me to cook up the ones laying about in my cupboard waiting for some attention. And as for your icks… wishing a rousing vindaloo for all that ails you. Namaste


Contemporary Troubadour March 14, 2011 at 8:18 pm

I am coming around to lentils. This may just be my way in after years of avoidance.


faemom March 14, 2011 at 11:34 pm

I wish I could give you a hug. I hope you feel better soon.

And I cannot for the life of me remember if I ever had lentils.


Barbara March 15, 2011 at 9:17 am

Man, that is a long list of ingredients, kiddo! How did that go down on your tummy? Sorry you’ve been feeling yucky.

I like a nice simple lentil salad….and I make a killer lentil soup. (which takes a ghastly photo, btw, so I’ll probably never post it. :)


Maria March 15, 2011 at 12:34 pm

Dear Kitch, I love you. I grew up eating lentils, the Cuban version. Ioved coming home to a steaming bowl of it. Alas, no one in my house will touch them, and much like you, I cannot bring myself to make them just for me. Maybe we need to gather other lentil lovers and set up a commune somewhere…. The vision of your leaning tower of food rags made me think of my leaning tower of gossip rags I have at home.

Hang in there, Kitchy…spring is right around the corner.


Belinda March 15, 2011 at 1:21 pm

Oh, so hungry right now!!! I love Indian food and particularly love Dal (with a little basmati rice and some nan….I could go vegetarian, I think!) but have never attempted to make it. This makes me want to go out for some Indian food for dinner!

Hsve you ever written about your travels to India? If so, I’d love to read to read it!


Sherri March 15, 2011 at 2:15 pm

OK – don’t take this the wrong way, but… even with the “icks”, you are pretty damn entertaining – funny and…. creative :-). I dig lentils, btw. I am a former vegan – they saved my anemic and protein-deprived little life (back when I was a misinformed vegan – eating only starches and salad). Looks good…. I’m makin’ it :-).


Paula (Salad in a Jar) March 15, 2011 at 9:16 pm

I’ve seen the pretty colored lentils at Central Market. This inspires me to try them.


theUngourmet March 15, 2011 at 11:31 pm

Hope your “icks” are on their way out. No fun at all! Winter sucks. Bring on the sunshine, it heals the soul! Lentils. I never liked them growing up but now…now I dig them. This recipe looks fabulous. Can’t wait to give it a try!


Mary Lee March 16, 2011 at 10:08 am

Just to let you know… didn’t have any lentils in my pantry, so today is split pea. Either one–my husband is just grateful it’s not another tuna sandwich.

Where is your blog linker (that’s a technical term!) getting the things it says I posted. I’ve never seen them before. Can’t wait to see what it says this time. If it isn’t “Every Bird a Nest”, don’t believe it. :)


Mary Lee March 16, 2011 at 10:10 am

AHA! I’m healed!

PS. Hope you are, too.


wizzythestick March 16, 2011 at 2:19 pm

Well I love lentils but that might be because almost half the population of my country are descendants of East Indian immigrants which translates into lots of yummy vegetable dishes like these.


BigLittleWolf March 16, 2011 at 4:24 pm

Hoping the Lentil Cure is working. (The past few months have been very ick for many I know. Oh won’t we all be glad when Spring has sprung and May has sung!)

So here’s to Lentil Soup when spirits droop!


Velva March 16, 2011 at 7:32 pm

I was adult before I was exposed to lentils served up with a middle eastern flair. God, a bowl of steaming lentils is good for the body and soul too. I have a bag of brown lentils in my pantry. I am feeling inspired. Thanks.

Hoep you are feeling better.


camilla March 16, 2011 at 11:34 pm

You’ve just reminded me how much I like lentils and how little I cook them! I went to a ‘hippy’ festival when I was 15 and saw naked people walking around being at peace with mother nature (something I was totally unprepared for!) and I also ate WAY to many lentils and was very sick for the next few days, however a trip to Turkey put me back on track again in my early 20’s and haven’t looked back since. I especially love them with chilli, lemon and yogurt….naan, mint, tomato la,la,laa
I need an Indian friend again! Hope the ick’s go soon x


Chiara March 17, 2011 at 4:01 am

I love lentils. And I’ve been in such a rut lately that maybe this is the cure I need. I’ll let you know if your medicine works =)


Rudri Bhatt Patel @ Being Rudri March 17, 2011 at 12:23 pm

I so wish we could cook together one day. Lentils are a hit at my house. However, I’ve gone through all of the lentil dishes I know so it helps to have a new recipe. Thanks Kitch!
Hugs and lots of xoxo friend. If you need to unload some of those icks, you know where to find me.


grace March 19, 2011 at 3:45 pm

you’re so right–lentils are far from the most attractive foodstuff. that said, i really love their texture and the bulk they add to a dish. i don’t discriminate when it comes to legumes. :)


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