Garam masala is an Indian spice blend available in bulk at the food co-op. We’ve often boiled green lentils with garam masala in a pot on the stove, as a high-protein main dish to go with whatever Indian vegetable dish we were making. Sometimes that’s been kind of annoying, though, as the cooking time is hard to predict (somewhere between 20 minutes and an hour…) and you have to keep adjusting the heat and stirring.
Recently I tried baking the lentils, instead, and that makes this main dish just as simple as Honey Baked Lentils: Simply mix a few ingredients, stick it in the oven, ignore it for an hour while you prepare the vegetables, and then stir in the butter and serve!
Garam masala has flavor but is not super hot-and-spicy, so sensitive people tend to like it–but if you’re cooking for people with very mild tastes, you might want to use less garam masala. If you’re cooking for people with spicier preferences, add some black pepper and a dash of powdered cloves or allspice.
To make 8 main-dish servings, you will need:
- 1 cup dry green lentils
- 2 cups water
- 2 Tbsp. garam masala
- 1/2 tsp. salt
- 2 Tbsp. butter (could substitute coconut oil or olive oil)
- 1-quart casserole dish with lid
Optional: Pre-soak the lentils. This theoretically makes them easier to digest and makes them cook a bit faster. The night before or several hours before cooking, measure lentils into casserole dish, add 2 Tbsp. lemon juice, and then add enough water that the lentils are submerged completely. Let stand in refrigerator or at room temperature. When ready to cook, drain the water, rinse the lentils, and then move on with the recipe.
Combine lentils, water, garam masala, and salt in casserole dish. Bake, covered, at 350F for one hour.
Remove from oven, set aside a sample to cool for tasting, then stir in the butter. Taste the sample–are the lentils cooked as soft as you’d like them, and do they need additional seasoning? Season as needed. If they’ve absorbed all the water but are not cooked enough, stir in 1/2 cup water and return to the oven for 15 minutes more.
Serving suggestions: While lentils are in the oven, dice an onion and brown it in olive oil or butter in a skillet. Top lentils with onion, for those who like it. Other tasty toppings are chopped tomato and cucumber.
Lentils have the lowest environmental impact of any protein source. They’re also affordable–especially when purchased from a bulk bin or in a 5-pound bag from Gordon Food Service–and nutritious. That makes lentils a great choice when you’re fasting from meat for Lent, Meatless Monday, or a fully vegetarian diet. Especially for Lent, it’s right there in the name, LENTils, right?
See these lentils in a meal with Palak Paneer and a cheap American substitute for authentic naan bread, and learn more about lentils and other meatless meals, in my latest article at Kitchen Stewardship!