Flat bean, round bean, pink bean, brown bean

Back when I worked in an office, I used to occasionally go to an Indian place around the corner for lunch: a couple of selections, plus rice, dal and naan for about six dollars. One day, there were TWO choices of dal on the steam table. What’s the difference, I asked? Well, explained the server, this one is yellow dal and this one is black dal.

Um, thanks for clarifying.

The lentil is such a cute bean in its dried form. The pearly peachy “red” lentil, in particular, looks like something you might scatter across a frosted cupcake. So it is particularly disappointing that, when cooked, every color has the tendency to turn to a dull-colored, blah-tasting sludge. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, especially when eaten alongside something bright and complicated. But it will not do if you’re relying on the same beanpot for a week’s lunches. Here’s one attempt to create a little more interest:

Cover the bottom of a pot with olive oil and turn to medium high. Add about a tablespoon of mustard seeds, a few crushed cardamom pods, and a thin-sliced fresh jalapeno. After a few minutes, throw in a generous handful of dried unsweetened coconut. Stir until coconut is browned, then add water and a 16 oz bag of red lentils. There water should cover the lentils by about an inch, maybe a little more. Bring to a boil. Cut a large potato into half-inch chunks and add to the pot. Bring back to boil. Taste a lentil. If they are beginning to soften, add salt, then cover and take off heat. Allow to finish cooking off heat for an hour or so. Pour off extra water, if any. Then stir in juice and zest of one lemon, plus a bunch of cilantro, chopped.000_0512


I didn’t really know what to expect from the coconut. Turned out not to add much in the way of flavor, but it was a real boon in terms of texture—lots of little chewy strands running through all the sludgy softness. Still not the most attractive of dishes (maybe a little tomato paste next time for color?) but mighty tasty.

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