Have 1 Minute to Spend on Dinner? Then Try this Authentic Indian Lentil Curry

If you have young kids, you know not to plan to get much else done on the days when you’re watching them.  Once they’re mobile, as my 7-month old now is, they require your full attention, save for a few minutes, if you’re lucky, when they’re napping.

So you certainly don’t plan on making curry for lunch when you’re watching your little guy for 12 hours and he’s obsessed with yanking on anything that’s plugged into a wall.  But yesterday that’s what I did, thanks to this authentic recipe that takes literally one minute of active cooking time.

It was so good, I ate it for dinner too.  And I’ll eat the leftovers for lunch today.  That’s about 20 seconds per meal.  And you wonder how I have time to do so much stuff!

Curry isn’t what you might think

Until recently, most curries I’ve made have been of the one-size-fits-all variety.  You know, the ones where you throw in a tablespoon or two of whatever’s in the nondescript jar marked “curry powder,” and you create something that falls well short of the great food you get at an Indian restaurant.

But as it turns out, “curry powder” isn’t any particular spice.  It’s a blend of spices, and of course the mix varies from place to place.  Recently I’ve been cooking from Anjum’s New Indian, which Wiley Publishing kindly sent me to review and share a few recipes from, like the black-eyed pea curry I posted a while back.  And as far as I can tell, “curry powder” isn’t once called for in the book—in each recipe, an appropriate blend of spices is used, never simply “curry.”

Bengali Red Lentil Curry

If you’ve never cooked with red lentils before, you’re probably wondering what the yellow stuff is in the above image.  I swear my son was nowhere near the plate.

Red lentils are in fact red, but when cooked, they turn yellow.  They also lose their form pretty quickly to produce a sort of “stew” texture, which is why regular brown lentils won’t really work here unless you cook them for much, much longer.

While some curries take hours of slow cooking, this Bengali one is quick.  The lentils take 20 minutes to cook while you can do whatever else you want.  Once they’re done, you saute the spices for 20 seconds, stir them in, and eat like you just won the Indian version of Who Wants to Be a Millionaire after growing up in the slums.  Dog.

What’s this ‘Panch Phoran’?

You’ll see that in the ingredient list is panch phoran.  Don’t let that keep you from making this.

If you have an Indian market nearby, you can probably find panch phoran premixed there.  Otherwise, just make it yourself—it consists of equal parts mustard seeds, fennel seeds, cumin seeds, fenugreek seeds, and nigella seeds.  The only one I didn’t have was nigella, but it supposedly tastes like pepper and smells like oregano, so I just mixed the two together as a substitution.

Another note on the recipe: It calls for ghee or vegetable oil.  To keep it vegan, I went with oil, but I used coconut oil since that has been my obsession recently.

Here’s the recipe, courtesy of Anjum Anand in Anjum’s New Indian, Wiley and Sons, 2008.  Really, get out of your box and make this one; it’s worth it.

Bengali Red Lentils

Serves 4-5

  • 1 and 1/4  cups red lentils, rinsed until the water runs clear
  • salt, to taste
  • 1/2 tsp ground turmeric
  • 1/4 – 1/2 tsp pure red chile powder
  • 1 tbsp ghee or vegetable oil
  • 2 dried red chiles
  • 1 rounded tsp panch phoran (see above)

Bring 1 quart of water to the boil in a large saucepan  Stir in the lentils, salt, turmeric and chile powder.  Bring back to a boil, then simmer over a  moderate heat until the lentils are tender, around 20 minutes.  Some will start to break up while others remain whole and the lentils will become indistinct from the water.

Heat the ghee/oil in a small saucepan.  Add the red chiles and panch phoran.  Fry for 20 seconds and pour in to the lentils.  Stir well, taste and adjust the seasoning, then loosen with a little water from a recently boiled kettle, if necessary— it should be a thickish curry.

An Almost Completely Unrelated (But Completely Awesome) Christmas Gift Idea

Note: This is NOT an affiliate arrangement or anything where I get paid if you buy it.   Not that I’m not opposed to doing that with products I like, but by now I’m sure you know I always tell you when that’s the case. This is just something I thought I’d pass along in case you’re looking for a cool gift for someone else or for yourself.

Try something real quick.  Think of a Christmas (or any holiday you want) gift you received that you still used a year later.  Got one?  How about five years later?

I can think of only one gift that meets the criteria for me.  And its one I just used again on Friday, almost seven years after my wife gave it to me on our first Christmas together after we started dating.  What is it?

A homebrew kit.  On Friday, some friends and I made a holiday spiced India pale ale that we’re going to keg and drink after a 20K trail race on January 2nd.  The kit has been one of the coolest, most useful gifts I’ve ever gotten, and if I didn’t already know Erin was “the one,” well, let’s just say the homebrew kit didn’t hurt her chances.

Anyway, here’s why I’m telling you this. My friend Billy is launching his Homebrew Academy site today, and anyone who joins ($30 for a lifetime membership) gets 20% off a homebrew kit from MoreBeer.com.  This will save you about 20 bucks on the kit, so it’s a pretty good deal, if you’re thinking about getting a kit anyway, to join Billy’s site and make sure your first batch doesn’t suck (like mine did).

And in case you’re wondering if homebrewing is even something you want your boyfriend, girlfriend, husband, or wife doing, there’s lots of free info on the site right now to help you figure that out.  I know Billy has put his heart and soul into building Homebrew Academy, and I’m going to join as soon as it opens.

So how is this not completely unrelated to vegetarian running?  Because making your beer yourself is the best way to know that it’s vegan and isn’t made with fish bladders! And if you don’t know why anyone would use fish bladders to make beer, check out the guest post Billy wrote on NMA about vegan beer.

Big giveaway post next time, see you soon!



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  1. Curries are my favorite last-minute meal. So easy, yet so satisfying.

    And Homebrew Academy?! I can’t wait to tell Stephen about this!

  2. Maggie Muggins says:

    I’ll have to pass the message along to the hubby, he’s been brewing a lot the past couple months. This year he has kegs on his wishlist so that he can make a kegerator.

  3. Yum, fish bladders… gah.

    The curry sounds delicious.

  4. Hi Matt,
    I tried your curry receipe the other night and i must of done something wrong, not sure…mine really was lacking in flavor. Keep the recepies coming though, I love your site!

    • Kim, sorry to hear it wasn’t good! I doubt you did something wrong; there’s not really much to mess up. The spice flavor is definitely subtle, maybe you’d like it with more. Or maybe it’s just not for you. I’ve got one more Indian recipe from that book to publish, maybe that’ll be better!

  5. Glad to see a recipe. Seems like it’s been a while.

  6. Mmmm red lentil daal! If you’re in love with this daal and want to add some variety, you can mix it up by adding some veggies.

    Try mixing in some fresh spinach for the last 2 minutes of cooking. Or add chopped sweet potato (either with the lentils, or for the last 10-15 mins of cooking, depending on how soft you like your sweet potato). Adding a can of diced tomatoes is another super-easy variation.

  7. Jody Robins says:

    Made this recipe tonight – awesome. If the flavor was lacking, you probably missed something. Maybe the panch phoran? That was pretty much key to the whole thing.

  8. Thanks for the recipe! I’m assuming the red lentils are uncooked? (excuse my naivete!)

  9. Matt,

    I also made this over the weekend and found the flavor a bit mild for my taste. Thinking I may up the tumeric and chili for more “pop”. Also like the sweet potato idea from another reader – will try that also. I am new to making curries but I think this is a great foundation to build on – simple and mild allowing for customization to taste. Thank you very much for sharing.

    Could you clarify if when making your own panch phoran whether the seed is ground or whole? I went with ground as the images I found for panch phoran online seemed to be a powder vs. a collection of seed.

    Thanks much.

  10. Hello! I’m new to your site and am excited to try out some recipes! Just curious… Did your kid(s) eat the curried lentils? Mine aren’t what I’d consider picky eaters at all but spicey does get to a few of them. Thanks!

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