Menti Pappu - Yellow Lentils flavoured with Fenugreek

Lentils are such an essential part of an Indian meal: we had them on the table at almost every meal, always in a different style. From South Indian sambhars and pappus with different varieties of yellow lentils to North Indian daals made with green gram, black, yellow or red lentils and a whole variety of beans. They are a great source of protein and the sheer variety of dishes you can conjure up make them extremely versatile and delicious. We always had to finish our assigned portions of daal before we could have the sometimes more tasty but less healthy dishes on the table like fried vegetables, pickles or the meat.

Since my recent holiday in India, I’ve found myself craving the simple heartiness of a good daal - my favourite lentil is yellow moong daal, which my mother and sister claim is the easiest to digest. But many yellow daals down, I found myself a bit bored and turned to my new cookbook by Archana Pidathala. I was rewarded with a recipe that's quite intriguing: it marries tomatoes and onions, cumin, coriander and some chilli with yellow lentils, and once everything cooks together it's finished off with some jaggery and tamarind. The resulting favours are delicious—earthy, tangy and wholesome—this is a dish that pairs beautifully with both rice or Indian breads. You can also eat it as a soup, topped with some yoghurt or crumbled feta and coriander. Leftovers keep beautifully - just warm them gently the next day, thinned out with some water if it's too thick.

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Menti Pappu - Yellow Lentils flavoured with Fenugreek 
Adapted from Five Morsels of Love
Serves 4 to 6

1 cup yellow moong daal, washed
1 medium onion, finely chopped
2 medium tomatoes, finely chopped
1/2 teaspoon cumin seeds
1/2 teaspoon mustard seeds
1/4 teaspoon fenugreek seeds
1 teaspoon coriander seeds

10 - 15 curry leaves, fresh or dried
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon ground coriander
1/2 teaspoon chili powder, or to taste
1/4 teaspoon turmeric
10 gms / 1 small gooseberry-sized ball of tamarind
3 tablespoons ground jaggery
1 tablespoon ghee or sunflower oil
salt to taste

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Wash the lentils until the water runs clear, drain and set aside.

In a large non-stick pot, heat the ghee or oil on a medium flame and once hot, add the cumin, mustard, fenugreek and coriander seeds as well as the curry leaves and let them come to a splutter, about 1 minute. Add the onions and tomatoes, stir well and then add the ground cumin, ground coriander, turmeric and chili powder. Stir well to combine and cook the mixture for about two minutes. Add the lentils to the pot, along with 3 cups of hot water and the jaggery. Bring to a gentle simmer, then reduce the heat and cook covered until the lentils are tender, about 25 to 30 minutes.

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In the meantime, soak the tamarind in 1/4 cup hot water for about 15 minutes. Work the pulp well between your fingers to combine with the water, it should create a thickish paste. Remove the pulp and seeds and discard, keeping only the paste. Once the lentils are cooked through, add the tamarind paste and salt to taste, stir well to combine. Remove from heat, transfer to a bowl and serve hot with either rotis or steamed rice, topped with some ghee.

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Images: Vatsala Murthy

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