Spiced red lentils with cucumber yoghurt – a vegetarian delight

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While I am on the subject of lentils, here is a recipe which I came across sometime ago, when I was looking for a red lentil dish to serve to vegetarians who were joining a group for dinner. It was a Middle Eastern/Mediterranean themed dinner and I was looking for several different dishes which could be served together and would compliment each other. This is quite spicy and the original recipe which comes from Yotam Ottolenghi also has the very pungent spice asafoetida added to it. Asafoetida is a very bitter spice with a pronounced garlic smell and is quite an acquired taste. If you can get hold of it and would like it add it, then add a pinch when you are cooking the lentils, tomatoes, sugar and fenugreek.

I think this dish is quite extraordinary and it also makes a great thick winter soup. I just like to have it as an optional extra.

Spiced red lentils with cucumber yoghurt

200g split red lentils

1 bunch fresh coriander

1 small onion, peeled

40g ginger, peeled

3 cloves garlic, peeled

1 mild green chilli

1 teaspoon black mustard seeds

4 tablespoons sunflower oil

1 teaspoon ground coriander

1 teaspoon ground cumin

1/2 teaspoon ground turmeric

1/2 teaspoon paprika

10 curry leaves

300g ripe tomatoes, peeled and chopped

2 teaspoon caster sugar

1/2 teaspoon fenugreek (optional)

Salt

150g Greek yogurt

75g finely diced cucumber

2 tablespoons olive oil

70g unsalted butter

2 tablespoons lime juice

Wash the lentils in plenty of water, drain and soak in 350ml of fresh water for 30 minutes. Cut the coriander bunch somewhere around its centre to get a leafy top half and a stem/root bottom half. Roughly chop the leaves. Put the stem half in the bowl of a food processor, add the onion, ginger, garlic and chilli – all roughly broken – and pulse a few times to chop up without turning into a paste.

Put the mustard seeds in a heavy-based pot and place over medium heat. When they begin to pop, add the onion mix and sunflower oil, stir and cook on low heat for 10 minutes. Add the spices and curry leaves, and continue cooking and stirring for five minutes longer. Now add the lentils and their soaking water, the tomatoes, sugar, fenugreek, and a pinch of salt. Cover and simmer for about 30 minutes, until the lentils are fully cooked.

Before serving, whisk together the yogurt, cucumber, oil and some salt. Stir into the lentils the butter, lime juice and chopped coriander leaves, taste and season generously with salt. Divide into bowls, spoon yogurt on top and garnish with coriander.

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