30 March 2014

Reconstructed Dal and Rice

Re-imagining the classic dal and rice: green lentil & basmati patties served with a red lentil dal.

(This is a Main Dish entry into the Lentil Recipe Revelations Challenge: keep reading to find out how to help us win!)

These slightly sweet and crispy rice and lentil patties are the perfect foil for this spicy and smooth red lentil dal.

Sambar Dal and Rice, Deconstructed Reconstructed

Don't be overwhelmed by the lengthy recipe!  Despite the long list of ingredients, this meal is not all that complicated to prepare.  It is time consuming but you can take some simple short cuts:  use leftover rice from a previous meal; use canned lentils for the rice patties rather than getting out another pot; make the sambar powder and garam masala ahead of time (or buy these commercially prepared).  You can mix and form the rice patties before making the dal (up to a day ahead), or while the dal is cooling and before blending.

the sambar powder*:
The sambar dal has a lot of hidden secrets:  the heat of the chilies is
supported by a wide array of spices and seasonings.

10 dried red peppers (hot)
1 tbsp dried red lentil
1 tbsp coriander seed
1/2 tsp fenugreek seed
1/4 tsp black peppercorns
1/2 tsp ground turmeric

Heat a dry cast iron skillet over med-high.  Add peppers, lentils, coriander, fenugreek, and peppercorns to the hot pan, stir together, then reduce heat to medium.  Toast until aromatic and golden being careful not to burn the spices.  Remove from heat and tip into a heat proof bowl.  Allow to cool completely.  Use a spice (or coffee) grinder to grind into a fine powder.  Stir turmeric into mixture.  Store in a clean jar.

the dal:

All the prep work is done.  Red lentils are rinsed and drained; garlic, ginger,
and shallots are crushed, grated and sliced; the sambar powder is
cooled and ground.

1/2 c. dried red lentils
2 tbsp olive oil
2 shallots, finely sliced
a thumb-sized piece of fresh ginger, peeled and finely grated
4 cloves garlic, crushed
3 tbsp sambar powder 
3-1/2 c. water
1/2 tsp salt
1 lemon, juiced

for the temper:

2 tbsp olive oil
1 tsp cumin seeds
1/4 tsp asafoetida

Rinse lentils and drain.

Heat oil over medium heat in a heavy-bottomed saucepan.  Add shallot, ginger and garlic.  Cook, stirring regularly, until shallots are soft and translucent, about 10 minutes.  Add sambar powder and stir to coat. There is a lot of heat in the sambar which will contrast wonderfully with the sweetness in the rice patties, but if you are shy of spicy heat, reduce the amount of sambar used by about half.  You want to maintain the complex flavour of the sambar and don't panic, between the temper and the rice patties the heat does dissipate.

Add lentils and stir thoroughly, cooking for 1-2 minutes.  Add water and salt.  Raise heat to med-high and bring to a boil.  Reduce heat and simmer for about 20 minutes. 

Remove from heat and let cool. Working in batches, puree the dal in a blender (or use an immersion blender in the pot).  Your dal should be quite thick, and will thicken a bit more. Don't be tempted to thin it out! You still have liquid to add and recall that we are aiming for a sauce, not a soup.

Return dal to its pot and reheat about the same time you begin to cook the rice and lentil patties.  Just before serving, make the temper by heating olive oil over med-low heat; add the cumin and asafoetida, stirring until the seeds are toasted.  

Stir the lemon juice into the dal, then gently stir the temper in but do not fully mix: leave streaks of oil and cumin seed visible.  (Why?  It's prettier that way.)

the lentil and rice patties:

1 tbsp sunflower oil
Using canned green lentils saves you the trouble of washing yet another
1-1/2 tsp mustard seeds
1/2 onion, sliced very thinly
1-1/2 tsp garam masala
1 carrot, shredded
2 tsp fresh ginger, grated
1/3 c. raisins or dried currants
1 c. canned green lentils, rinsed and drained (or green lentils cooked in advance)
3/4 tsp turmeric
3 tbsp mango chutney
2 c. leftover cooked rice
1 egg, beaten
rice flour, as needed
oil for pan-frying (sunflower or peanut)

Put 1 tbsp of oil and mustard seeds in a cold skillet and heat over medium until the mustard seeds pop.  You might want to have a lid handy to avoid needing to sweep up popped mustard.  When the popping starts to slow down, add onions and saute 1-2 minutes to soften. 

Add carrot, ginger and garam masala to the pan and saute until carrots soften, about 2-3 minutes.  Add raisins, lentils and mango chutney.  Stir to mix well.  Reduce heat slightly and cook, stirring frequently, until the moisture is gone and there is a slight caramelization on the onion, carrots and lentils.

The turmeric gives the rice patty a happy yellow colour.  Plus, you know
when the mixture is well combined because it's fully stained with the turmeric.
In a mixing bowl, combine lentil mixture with all the remaining ingredients  Mix thoroughly using your hands.  You will know it's well-mixed when the rice is all coloured yellow from the turmeric.  The mixture should hold a form when pressed together.  If it's too wet, add rice flour (or cornstarch or potato starch, whatever absorbent and fine-textured flour you have on hand) a teaspoon or two at a time, mixing between additions until you get a slightly sticky mix that holds a shape.

Form the rice mixture into patties with your hands.  Use a small handful (about 2 tbsp) of mix for each patty; this will give you 18-24 patties (depending on the size of your hand and your interpretation of small...).  Dredge in rice flour (or etc. as above) and place on a tray.  Refrigerate for 20 minutes or longer (up to a day) to allow them to set.

Heat a generous amount of frying oil (a thick layer) in a large skillet over medium-high.  The oil is ready when tiny bubbles form quickly around a wooden spoon handle pressed against the bottom of the skillet.  Turn the heat down slightly and cook the patties in batches, until golden brown and crispy on the outside (about 2 minutes per side).  Drain on brown paper.

to serve:

Usually we think of dal being served over rice, but for this dish, plate it the other way around.  Put about 1/2 c. of dal on each plate, place 3-4 rice cakes on the dal and garnish with chopped fresh cilantro.  Serve with onion salad and plain yogurt.

A lemony onion salad and a sprinkle of cilantro add a fresh lightening touch to the meal.

This recipe makes about 6 servings.  Leftovers reheat well in the microwave for an office lunch.  The patties also reheat well in a hot oven and even make a good cold snack. 


Here on the east coast of the country, we are still being hounded by this long, miserable, cold winter.  We are well and truly entrenched in store-cupboard cooking as we hunker down to wait it out. Dry and tinned goods, preserves, vegetables that store well, frozen things... it doesn't start out sounding like any good could come of it.  Don't underestimate pantry cooking.  And make no mistake, this interpretation of dal with rice is dinner party worthy.  Lentils can be that sexy.  (As an added bonus, a vegetarian friendly meal that won't leave meat-eaters wondering what else there is to eat.) 

We always have lentils in the pantry.  We don't always think "what can we do with these lentils", more often it's "this recipe calls for lentils, I'm sure we have some somewhere".   The Lentil Recipe Revelations Challenge made us start to think about what we can do with these lentils.  This is one of those meals we've had in our back pocket for a while but were spurred to post it by the contest.  So lucky you, thanks to the folks at lentils.ca you can astound your friends with your ingenious interpretation of a comfort classic.  

Now for the shameless self-promotion.  If you like this recipe, please say so!  Part of the contest criteria is  how well received the lentil recipes are.  Leave us a comment on this page telling us how delicious the meal looks.  Go to the Canadian Lentils Facebook Page and "like", "share", and/or comment on our recipe.  Go there anyway, as it's your best source right now to find inspiration for what to do with the lentils you remember in the back of your cupboard... 

(And, man, if we win, we can finally replace that kitchen scale caribougrrl the cats broke.)


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  2. This looks delicious! Can't wait to try it - I'm inspired to work with lentils!

    1. When you make it, let us know how it turns out!

  3. YUM! I can eat this! I can sub out the egg and I can eat this! I am not entirely sure why this has made me so very happy right at this moment but it has :)

    1. When we were doing our recipe testing, I kept thinking how you would be able to adapt this recipe to vegan much more easily than, say, the moose stew. :) If you overcook the rice and keep it covered to trap the steam, it might be sticky enough you don't need an egg substitute anyway.

  4. So glad to see you taking part in the challenge! Brilliant recipe! I could eat this without a doubt. I love your addition of the sambar spice…great choice! The Lentil Queen, as you called me would love to try this! :)

    1. Your enthusiasm for the lentil competition certainly helped motivate us. :)

    2. I think I'm in love with this recipe. I have been thinking about this for a while. Going to make it next weekend using sambar powder. This one needs to win!
      And as for the enthusiasm, whats blogging for food all about if I can't inspire people to do something like this! Glad you joined. Its been hectic and fun going a bit nuts with lentils in our household! :)

    3. If you try it, Debjani, let me know how it goes.

  5. Replies
    1. We really enjoyed developing this recipe, I'm glad that comes through. Thanks for stopping by!


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