If you could pick only 4 dried spices to have your kitchen, what would they be?
I know, it is a tough question…
For me, perhaps cumin, cinnamon, Aleppo chili flakes and bay leaves.
I use these ingredients a lot and feel out of place if I have to work in a kitchen without them. Funnily enough, they aren’t your typical spices found in a North American kitchen.
My friend recently visited and requested that we cook together. She wanted to learn how to cook more like me, ie, more healthy, vegetarian cooking. Of course, I can easily whip up healthy recipes with my own pantry staples, but I wanted to work with what she had in her kitchen.
I immediately wanted to know what kind of equipment she had. No food processor nor spice grinder, but she thinks she has a Magic bullet. Next, I needed to know what spices she had.
She had to get back to me, she couldn’t remember.
Turns out, she had four: cumin, turmeric, bay leaves and curry powder.
Of all the spices, what a wonderful selection! I could breathe more easily.. I could whip out my cumin recipes! And bean recipes!
I gave her a menu, with a multitude of possibilities that worked within her kitchen constraints as well as her own prep constraints. She told me she didn’t want to do a lot of chopping, not a lot of prep time, focusing on hearty dishes with beans and root vegetables, and she likes zucchini and eggplant.
Turns out I had made a killer dal recipe earlier that week from Julia’s Vegan Kitchen (adapted from Indian Home Cooking‘s recipe), so I was tickled pink when she picked it as the meal she wanted to make together.
While I originally made this simple dal with split yellow peas, red lentils are better for quick meals. Red lentils are a great choice for bean newbies since they don’t need any pre-soaking and cook up in under half an hour. Therefore, I used red lentils with my friend.
Despite a seemingly short ingredient list, this is a really flavourful dal. With the right cooking techniques, you can make the flavours pop. The trick is the heighten the flavour with a little simmering of the spices in oil that you add at the end of cooking.
While you get the lentils simmering and the rice is cooking, you heat up some garlic, ginger, cumin and chili flakes in a bit of oil. When the lentils are finished, you add the spice mixture along with fresh lime juice. It is that simple, yet so good. I cannot stress how important it is to use fresh ingredients, as its flavours are heightened when heated in the oil. The fresh lime juice adds an element of brightness, tempering the dish in all the right ways. Personally, I preferred this dal with the yellow split peas, as they were deceptively sweet. I have had a hard time finding a split pea soup I like, so I was surprised at how much I loved this. It was a bit more soupy when fresh, but firms up nicely as leftovers (see the above picture!)
In fact, everyone was smitten by how easy, flavourful and healthy this meal was. It will definitely be added to our regular rotation of no-think, pantry-friendly recipes.
Here were some other dishes on my friend’s menu:
Ever So Nice Rice and Beans from The Two-Week Wellness Solution
Coconut Curried Lentils with Basmati Rice from Supermarket Vegan
Easy Curried Chickpeas and Quinoa from Fat Free Vegan
Ginger Red Lentils with Garlic from 660 Curries
What are your your favourite no-think quick, healthy vegan recipes?
Split Pea Dal with Ginger and Lime
1 cup yellow split peas (or red lentils)
1/2 tsp turmeric
3/4 tsp salt
4 cups water (3 cups if using red lentils)
1 tbsp canola or coconut oil
1 1/4 tsp cumin seeds
1/2 tsp Aleppo chili flakes, to taste
1 tbsp minced fresh ginger
2 cloves garlic, minced or pressed
cayenne to taste
juice of 1/2 lime
1/4 cup chopped cilantro, optional
1. Put the peas into a large saucepan with the turmeric, salt and water (use 3 cups of water for red lentils). Bring to a boil and skim well. Turn the down and simmer, covered, until the peas crumble when you touch them, about 45-60 minutes (or 15 minutes for red lentils). Taste for salt and add more if you need to.
2. Using a potato masher, mash some of the legumes. Then continue cooking at a simmer, uncovered, for 5 minutes to thicken. If you like a thicker dal, use a whisk to break the lentils up into a puree.
3. For the tempering oil, heat the oil with the cumin seeds in a small frying pan over medium-high heat. Cook, stirring, until the cumin turns a light brown color, 1 to 2 minutes. Add the chili flakes, the ginger, garlic and cook, stirring, until the garlic no longer smells raw and turns a golden brown color, about 30 more seconds. Remove the pan from the fire, add the cayenne and sprinkle in a few drops of water to stop the cooking.
4. Stir half of the tempering oil, half of the cilantro and all of the lime or lemon juice into the dal. Simmer very gently, uncovered, for 5 minutes. Transfer the dal to a serving bowl. Pour the remaining tempering oil over the top and sprinkle with the remaining cilantro. Serve hot with rice.