Sometimes, when you have been pursuing something for a long period of time, the solution comes from the most unexpected place. For years, I have been trying to identify this one taste I would pick up in Indian food that was prepared outside of my kitchen. It was a deep, smoky flavor that permeated everything certain curry dishes, especially those with lentils. I have tried many lentil-based recipes, from a variety of Indian recipes sources, and was never able to capture the secret.
On a lark, I tried this recipe -- from Cooking Light -- and it produced the very taste I have been looking for for years! It proves that Cooking Light is much more than just a low-calorie publication, but is instead a resource for healthful, flavorful dishes. No wonder I turn to them more often than I had expected I would.
The secret comes from toasting cumin seeds (here, mixed with peppercorns) and then mushing them up into a paste with a mortar and pestle. I don't think you would want to lick the mixture directly, but added into a sauce, it is just deliciousness. Enjoy this nice variation of rice and beans -- easy to prepare, good re-heated.
Rice and Lentils with Curry Leaves and Ginger (Ven Pongal)
Cooking Light, May 2008
1/4 tsp canola oil
2 tsp cumin seeds
1 tsp peppercorns
1/2 c red lentils, uncooked, rinsed and drained
4 c water
1 c rice
3/4 tsp coarse salt
1/2 tsp turmeric
1/4 cilantro, chopped
2 T ginger, peeled and julienned
1 T butter
12 curry leaves
Heat oil in a small saucepan over medium heat. Add cumin seeds and peppercorns to pan. Cook 30 seconds or until cumin turns reddish brown, stirring constantly.
Transfer to a mortar; let cool. Crush cumin mixture with a pestle until coarsely ground.
Rinse lentils in a sieve under cold running water until water runs clear. Combine lentils, 4 c water, and rice in a large saucepan; bring to a boil.
Stir in cumin mixture, salt and turmeric; cook 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. Cover, reduce heat to low, and cook 10 minutes, stirring once. Remove from heat and let stand, covered, 10 minutes. Stir in cilantro and remaining ingredients. Serve immediately