Here’s to the beginning of another busy week – lots of work deadlines, family events and appointments. Sound familiar? Weeks like these mean constantly playing catch-up. As much as we try to plan everything ahead – full work days, school drop offs and pickups, music lessons, sports, and weekly dinner menus – there is always a need to make up time later in the nights. Long after the kids go to bed, I find myself sitting on the couch with my laptop trying to work and also trying not to pay attention to some late night comedy show or a weekend game replay on TV. During such busy weeks, it’s tempting to order in a pizza or go out for a quick meal as a quick, time-saving dinner solution. However, I feel if I have a menu planned ahead for the week, groceries bought and even a little bit of prep work done over the weekend, it goes a long way.
Sure, we have days that are a total chaos but hey that’s what life is all about. Those imperfect, unplanned, go with the flow kind of moments. Still, having a warm, home cooked meal for the family to gather around the dinner table for, has a certain therapeutic quality to it and it keeps me grounded (and also makes me feel that I am in control..lol). A humble pot of lentils cooked with some seasonal goodies is one such earthy meal that is so comforting, comes together rather quickly and is good for you.
The orange lentils that I use in this recipe are easy to find at most grocery stores, cook quickly (so you don’t really need a pressure cooker to save time), and are a relatively inexpensive source of protein. If you’ve never cooked daal, it is an Indian style of cooking lentils and red lentils are the easiest to start with. The lentils are slowly cooked (or quickly in a pressure cooker), and then a tadka made of spices and ghee is added to finish the daal, think of tadka as a spiced oil drizzled over the lentils. I use ghee for making tadka of all my daals, but if you replace it with olive oil or oil of your choice you can make this recipe totally vegan.
Butternut squash starts flooding the farmers markets around this time of the year. The one I used is from a friend’s garden so cannot get better than that. I don’t think you can find butternut squash in India but use kaddu or pumpkin in place of it. You know the orange kind..:P. Cherry tomatoes are from our garden. Think of this recipe as a bridge between summer and fall. So exciting! There is something deeply satisfying for me knowing that I try to stay connected to our environment and seasonal cycles by incorporating local, and seasonal produce in our day to day meals.
Serve this over a bowl of rice or with hot, off the griddle chapati and there you have it – a completely satisfying and soul comforting meal!
Red lentils – 1cup
Ghee/olive oil – 1 tablespoon (ghee recipe here)
Cherry tomatoes – 1 cup (or use 1 large tomato, diced)
Butternut squash – 2 cups, cubed (about half of a small butternut squash)
Thyme – 1 sprig (optional)
Water – 3.5 cups
Salt – to taste
For Tadka/spiced oil
Ghee/olive oil – 2 tablespoons
Asafoetida – a pinch
Cumin seeds – 1 teaspoon
Turmeric powder – ¼ teaspoon
Coriander powder – 1.5 tablespoons
Garam masala powder – ¼ teaspoon
Cilantro – leaves from 5 sprigs, chopped
Wash and rinse the lentils in room temperature water.
Set a heavy bottomed sauce pan on medium high heat and add 1 tablespoon ghee/oil to it. Once the oil is heated through and shiny add the cherry tomatoes and a pinch of salt. Let the tomatoes blister and pop, say 5-7 minutes. The tomatoes are going to splutter so watch out. Add the cubed butternut squash and thyme sprig, add another pinch of salt and turmeric. It’s important to season at each step as it builds the flavor in your dish. Stir around for a minute or two and then add lentils and 3.5 cups of water. Season generously with salt. Bring the mix to a boil over high heat, then reduce the heat to low, cover and simmer 20-30 minutes, until the lentils are soft and the squash is cooked.
To make tadka/spiced oil, heat ghee/oil in medium skillet over medium heat. Add asafoetida and cumin seeds, after the cumin seeds splutter add coriander powder. Cook for about a minute until the spices are fragrant.
Top the cooked lentils with this spiced oil. Stir and add garam masala and chopped cilantro. Serve the daal over bowls of rice (recipe here) or in small bowls accompanying chapati or roti (recipe here) or homemade garlic naan. Enjoy!
Note: If you are cooking the daal/lentils in a pressure cooker, add the lentils, 3.5 cups water, salt and turmeric powder into a pressure cooker. Put the lid on and cook on high heat for one whistle. Turn the heat off and wait to open the lid of the cooker till the pressure releases. Then add the cooked lentils to the sauce pan in which you have been cooking the butternut squash and tomatoes, 6-7 minutes after adding the squash.
Love – Vaishali.
Knife and chopping board
Measuring cups and spoons
Pressure cooker (optional)