It may not be the prettiest of meals, but for a simple dinner on the quick, cheap and healthy, it'll do just fine. This has become a go-to at our house when the fridge is bare and dinner comes down to pantry staples. It's called dahl, an Indian lentil dish that's strong in flavor and low in maintenance. Not the most pleasing to the eye, but what it lacks in presentation it makes up for in flavor. And did I mention it's quick... and cheap?...
It's the spices that really make dahl, dahl. The lentils are cooked with tumeric -- a spice that's been used to treat everything from bug bites to congestion to menstrual cramps. The vibrant yellowy-orange powder is a staple in Indian cooking, though it was originally thrown in as a preservative to make curries last longer. Sure enough, the same way tumeric kept the curry from going bad, it works to protect the living tissues in our bodies. And looking at the health stats for people in India and Pakistan, there's something to it. They have substantially lower rates of cancers, particularly colon cancer. Perhaps they're on to something...
For centuries, tumeric has been used as a potent medicinal herb in Chinese and Ayurvedic medicine for its anti-inflammatory, anti-viral, anti-bacterial, anti-fill-in-the-blank properties. Let's just say it has super powers. And what have we Americans traditionally use this cure-all for? To make stain-your-clothes yellow mustard. Huh.
Tumeric brings balance to the body as a warming and bitter herb. It helps with protein digestion and also works to decongest the liver and protect it from toxins. As an anti-inflammatory, some say it's comparable to Hydrocortisone or Motrin. And if you want to up the ante, add a little black pepper. As if super powers weren't enough on their own, the synergistic combo makes tumeric 2,000 times more potent. Whoa.
Spices bring these bad boys to life, but on their own they're worth talking about too. Lentils are one of the best vegetarian sources of protein and are a fabulous alternative to beans as they take half as much time to cook. They come in several varieties in different colors and sizes. They're good for the heart and cardiovascular system and stimulate the adrenal system. Of course they're also low in calories and fat, but filling. Adding spices – particularly cumin, coriander and ginger – help to make them easier to digest as well (you're welcome).
Green Lentil Dahl
1 cup lentils, uncooked
2 cups vegetable broth
1 tsp turmeric
1/4 tsp cayenne
1/2 tsp salt
1 tbsp olive oil
1 onion, diced
1 1/2 tsp cumin, whole seeds or ground
2 whole cloves
dash pepper, to taste
In a large pot, place the lentils and vegetable broth, and bring to a slow simmer. Add the turmeric, cayenne and salt, and cover. Allow to cook for at least 20 minutes, stirring occasionally.
In a large skillet or frying pan, heat the olive oil over medium heat. Add the onion, cumin and clove and stir to combine. Cook for 4 to 6 minutes, until onion is soft. When the onion begins to brown, add to the lentils, and allow to simmer for at least 5 more minutes.
Add a dash of pepper and more salt, if desired, and serve on it's own, or with rice, veggies or both.
Megan Adams Brown, CHC, helps people take charge of their health and to start listening to themselves over the latest diet trend to optimize their own wellness, happiness and potential. Her family-friendly meal plans help parents take charge in the kitchen, too. This leads to more vegetables, less junk, and happier, healthier kids and parents. Megan shares kid-approved, allergy-friendly recipes on her blog. To learn more click here.