One of the main obstacles preventing people from beginning a vegan or vegetarian lifestyle is misconceptions about obtaining sufficient protein without relying on animal sources. Vegetarians in India (as well as throughout much of the world) have long relied on lentils (or, in Hindi, Dal) to provide essential protein.
Lentils are not only a low-fat, low-calorie source protein (about 26% protein and 1% fat, and only 230 calories in a cup of cooked lentils), but also contain high levels of dietary fiber, folate, and iron.
Studies show that diets high in fiber can:
- aid in weight loss
- improve digestion
- lower cholesterol
- reduce the risks of heart disease
- help manage blood sugar levels
Additionally, the high levels of folate and vitamin B6 found in lentils can help to lower the risk of developing breast cancer. Folate, vitamin B6 and magnesium (also found in lentils), have been proven to significantly lower the risk of heart disease. Finally, the high iron content can help to increase energy levels, especially for women (who tend to be at higher risk for anemia).
The lentil recipe below also uses turmeric, a spice rich in health benefits. A relative of the ginger root, turmeric is one of the key spices in curry cuisine worldwide, lending to these dishes its distinctive yellow color and fragrant flavor. According to a study conducted by UCLA researchers, turmeric can reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s disease, and provides powerful anti-inflammatory and anti-oxidant properties.
According to the reference book “Prescriptions for Nutritional Healing”, the following attributes can be linked to turmeric:
- Fights free radicals
- Protects the liver from toxins
- Inhibits platelet aggression
- Aids circulation
- Lowers cholesterol
- Improves blood vessel health
- Has antibiotic, anti-cancer, and anti-inflammatory properties
- Helps alleviate arthritis pain
- Has inhibited the spread of HIV in lab tests.
That should be enough reason to eat curried lentils. The Masoor Dal recipe below is from Northern India, and utilizes red lentils in a vibrant curry preparation.
Cook time: 45 minutes
- 1/2 lb red lentil
- water, as needed
- 2 tbs Earth Balance buttery sticks (or other vegan butter substitute)
- 2 tbs light olive oil
- 1 medium onion, finely chopped
- 2 garlic cloves, minced
- 2 tsp whole coriander seeds
- 2 tsp cumin seeds
- 2 tsp dried red pepper flakes
- 1 tsp cardamom seed
- 5 inches cinnamon sticks, broken
- 2 tsp turmeric powder
- 1 tsp (to taste) salt
- 1 tbs lemon juice
- 7 ounces coconut milk
- Wash the lentils well, sort, and drain. Place lentils in a saucepan, and add just enough salted water to cover the lentils.
- Bring lentils to a boil then reduce heat, cover and simmer until they are soft. Make sure the water level stays above the lentils.
- While lentils are simmering, grind together coriander, cumin, red pepper flakes, cardamom, cinnamon and turmeric in a spice grinder (a coffee grinder works quite well, too).
- Toast the ground spices over low heat in a dry sauté pan, until they are fragrant and warm. Set spices aside.
- Using the same sauté pan, heat oil over medium heat. Add onions and sauté until they are soft and translucent. Add garlic and cook another 3-4 minutes. Do not burn the onions or garlic. Add spice mixture and continue to cook for 2-3 minutes.
- Once the lentils are soft, add them and their cooking liquid to the onion and spice mixture (you can add more water if this mixture is too thick). Stir the mixture, scraping up any onion and garlic bits from the bottom of the pan.
- Stir in lemon juice, Earth Balance, and salt to taste, and continue to cook for 5 minutes.
- Just before serving, add coconut milk and heat thoroughly.
- Garnish with a pinch of red pepper flakes. Delicious with roti, naan bread or coconut rice.