What is it about Indian food that sets my taste buds into a swoon and my mouth burning with delight? Well, it could be the hot peppers, the spices and those heavenly chutneys. Then again it could just be the combination of tastes that make my mouth sing.

Take the traditional Dahl recipe for instance. With this delicious dish you can use a wide variety of lentils to create something different each day. Dahl, sometimes spelled Dal, is the perfect dish for vegetarians and vegans looking for a good protein source with a lot of flavor. And let’s not forget the health benefits. Lentils are loaded with both soluble and insoluble fiber, which helps to lower cholesterol levels.

One cup of cooked lentils provides you with 17.86 grams of protein and 15.64 grams of fiber. They are a rich source for molybdenum, folate, iron, phosphorus, copper, thiamin and potassium. Plus they are fast cooking and adapt well to many different spices. Pay a visit to an Indian food market where you will be amazed at the variety of lentils, pulses, beans and split peas used to make dahl. Buy a few different types and try them out at home. The basic spice list includes: cumin, coriander, turmeric, cayenne, garlic, ginger and onion. Or you can use a good curry powder with a teaspoon or two of garam masala.

Curry powder is a combination of Indian spices and herbs that can include the spices mentioned above, as well as, fennel seed, and fenugreek. Garam masala, on the other hand, is a combination of ground spices that include cloves, cardamom, cinnamon, nutmeg, mace, star anise, coriander and cumin. It provides the sweet and hot, while the curry adds the savory and spicy. A nice combination when used properly.

I like to use the quick cooking red lentils and pair them with sweet potato, ginger, garlic and coconut milk. Or another favorite is to use mung beans to make dahl. Mung beans are beneficial to the liver and gall bladder, they act as a diuretic, and help reduce swelling in the body. There are 24 grams of protein, 132 grams of calcium and 189 grams of magnesium in 3.5 ounces of cooked mung beans. There is no need to pre-soak these beans as they cook quickly and are easy to digest.
The following two recipes use both the curry and garam masala. They can be made thick and served over rice or thinned with water or stock to make soup. Adapt heat and salt to your tastes.

Spicy Mung Beans in Coconut Milk

Serves 6-8

1 cup mung beans * 4 cups water * 1 onion * 3 cloves garlic * 2 inch piece fresh ginger * 1 hot pepper or 1 tsp. red pepper flakes * 1 teaspoon curry powder
1 teaspoon garam masala * 1 tablespoon coconut oil * 1 tablespoon ghee (clarified butter) * 1/2 teaspoon sea salt * 5.5 ounces coconut milk

1. Wash and sort through the mung beans removing any stones or other debris.
In a large saucepan or dutch oven bring the mung beans and water to a boil over medium high heat, cover, reduce and allow to simmer until beans become tender, about 15 minutes.
2. Meanwhile, chop the onion, mince the garlic and pepper, peel and mince the ginger.
3. Heat the oil and ghee in a skillet and sauté the vegetables over a medium low heat, stirring from time to time, until onions are tender, about 4 minutes.
4. Add the curry powder and garam masala, stirring well. Cook until the spices release their aroma, about 1-2 minutes.
6. Stir the onion spice mixture into the mung beans. Add a small amount of water to the skillet to “wash” out any remaining oil or spice adhering to the bottom of the pan; and add this to the mung beans.
7. Add the coconut milk and salt to taste, stirring well. Reduce heat to simmer, cover, and cook another 30 minutes or until the beans have broken apart and the flavors well combined. (At this point you could place the mung bean mixture into a heated crockpot and cook on low until ready to serve).

Note: Clarified butter known as GHEE is regular butter that has had the milk solids and water removed leaving behind a pure golden-yellow butterfat. Also known as drawn butter, it has a rich butter flavor with a long shelf life of several months and a much higher smoke point than most oils. You can buy it ready made in an Indian or natural foods market.

Red Lentil Dahl
Serves 6

1 cup red lentils, rinsed * 1 sweet potato, peeled and chopped * 1 cup vegetable stock * 1 1/2 cups water * ½ sweet onion, chopped * 2 clove garlic, minced * 2 Tbs. fresh ginger, peeled, minced * 1 Tbs. coconut oil * 1 Tbs. ghee * 1/3 cup unsweetened coconut milk * 1 tsp. curry powder * 1 tsp. garam masala (Indian curry powder) *

1. In a large saucepan combine the lentils, sweet potato, water and stock. Bring to a boil slowly, reduce heat and simmer while preparing the onions,
2. In a skillet heat the oil and ghee. Add the onion and ginger. Reduce heat to low and cook for 3 minutes stirring often.
3. Add the garlic and continue to cook another minute.
4. Add both curry powders stirring well to roast the herbs. Careful not to overcook.
5. Keep the heat low, when the aroma is released from the herbs stir the onion mixture into the lentils.
6. Add a small amount of water to the skillet and “wash” the pan then pour the remains into the lentils.
7. Salt to taste and allow tosimmer covered for another 15 minutes.
8. Serve with toasted cashews or peanuts. When not on the Cleanse top with a dollop of sheeps yogurt.