Tamarind Lentil Bowl

tamarind lentils with condiments

Mercifully, the heat wave of two weeks ago is a distant memory.  I've heard so many Seattle folks praise the rain and grayness lately.  We are funny.  As much as weather is cliche small talk, it makes sense why we're always returning to it. We are all subject to the same thing, and none of us can change it.  During one of the hot days, our family went swimming at a dirty public beach on Lake Washington--dead fish floating belly up, algae galore, God knows how many toddlers peeing in the shallows. What I liked about it, though, was that we were all in it together.  Rich, poor, black, white, and otherwise, we were all trying to cool off. Not one of us, no matter how much authority, power, or money, could lower the temperature even one degree.

I wasn't waxing poetic about the weather yesterday morning, though, when it was pouring and the roofing team was coming to finish the job we couldn't.  The rain stopped, though, they came (may the Universe bless them unspeakably), and the project is finished.  And we celebrated with bowls of lentils since every penny we own is now above our heads.

If some eaters are Separatists (meat can't touch potatoes, potatoes can't touch the salad, etc.), I am an Integrationist.  I like lots of layers in my food.  This tendency helps to make my various versions of rice and beans a lot more interesting and suitable for eating several nights in a row.  To that end, there are many possible condiments here.  If you come up any novel ones, let us know!

It's been a tiring week, but it's well with my soul.  I have a couple small consulting jobs in the hopper, my loved ones are healthy, we're protected from the elements, and I'm still finding solace in the kitchen with you. Thank you for reading.

Tamarind Lentil Bowl
I got the idea of putting tamarind in lentils from Madhur Jaffrey, the famed Indian cook.  I had a cake of tamarind pulp in my fridge (I'm weird like that), but you could use tamarind concentrate (available at Asian markets in a little tub) or just substitute lime juice to give it sourness.  This makes a lot--I always figure if I'm going to the trouble to cook beans, I might as well go for it.  You could halve it, though.

3 c. dried lentils
2 Tb. vegetable oil
4 cloves minced garlic
1 ts. chile flakes
1 bay leaf
1 ts. cumin seeds
1/2 ts. turmeric
1 ts. brown mustard seeds
1/3 c. tamarind pulp, dissolved in hot water and strained, or 2 Tb. tamarind concentrate or juice of 1 large lime
salt and pepper
hot Basmati rice

Rinse lentils really well.  Put in a large stockpot and cover with 2" of water and add a couple teaspoons of salt. Bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer and cook until tender, 35-40 minutes.  Add more water as necessary--sometimes lentils soak up a lot of water fast, and it's better that you have to dump some water out in the end than burn them.

In a skillet, heat vegetable oil.  Add garlic, chile flakes, bay leaf, cumin seeds, turmeric, and mustard seeds. Fry for a minute or two until mustard seeds pop.  Add the mixture to the cooked lentils.  Add the tamarind pulp, and simmer the whole thing for at least 10 minutes more.  Take a potato masher and mash up a few of them in the pot so they're thick.  Add more salt, pepper, tamarind (or lime juice), or chile flakes to taste.

Serve over or alongside hot Basmati rice and offer condiments on the side.  Possibilities:

  • toasted coconut
  • chopped peanuts
  • sliced green chiles
  • plain yogurt
  • sliced cucumbers
  • cilantro
  • chopped tomatoes
  • red onions
  • Sambal oelek
  • lime wedges

Last night, I made a delicious little condiment with Thai green chiles, chopped fresh mint, salt, a little sugar, and a squeeze of lime juice.  Yancey and I fought over it.


I also made a fried tomato chutney-type thing.  I had some Yakima beefsteak tomatoes that looked good at the produce stand, but when I cut into them, they were too hard.  What to do?!  (Besides curse).  I chopped them up.  Then I heated some olive oil in a skillet and threw some mustard seeds in there.  After a minute, I put the tomatoes in and let it fry for just a couple minutes. I dumped everything in a bowl and added lots of salt.  They were delicious and saucy.