Lentil soups, known as dal in Hindi, are a staple in both Indian and Ayurvedic cuisine. The final product often looks similar, a fragrant and creamy mixture of spices, herbs, and legumes. Yet the preparation methods do have some distinctions.
Dal prepared the Indian way often contains garlic, onions, tomatoes, and chili peppers. Hello Pitta!! This emphasis on pungent ingredients is mind-boggling considering how much of the country is drenched in intense sun. Yet the use of these spices is a cultural tradition, and does taste pretty good!
Dal prepared the Ayurvedic way is focused more on creating balance and nourishing one for their daily life purpose. Pungent elements can most certainly be used, but will be more likely during damp and heavy months (winter to early spring) or when alleviating a Kapha imbalance. During summer (Pitta) months cooling ingredients such as coconut, cilantro, lime, and coriander are added. During the Fall (Vata) months, grounding ingredients such as extra ghee or cubed yams are utilized.
Ayurvedic and Indian dals do share one important similarity: an emphasis on reducing the gas-producing qualities of lentils. The lentils are soaked overnight, and then rinsed multiple times, which helps remove saponin from the surface of the legume. Saponin inhibits digestion so it is best to rid of this!
Both Indian and Ayurvedic dals also incorporate the use of digestive spices, such as coriander, cumin, cardamom, and asafetida. Asafetida is a fascinating root herb that reduces the growth of flora in the gut, which directly helps to reduce gas. Asafetida is grounding and warming, and only a very small quantity is needed to kindle digestion. This herb can be found in Asian markets and specialty health food stores.
And on to the recipe. This dal features red lentils, which are sweet, cooling, and unctuous. This is a great beginner dal since these lentils cook up quite fast. And red lentils balance all three doshas, including Vata! In fact, red lentils are one of the easiest to digest in the legume family.
This recipe is an Ayurvedic interpretation of a family favorite Indian version that my mum created.
Ayurvedic Red Lentil Soup
1 cup red lentils
4 cups water
1″ fresh ginger, finely chopped
1-2 teaspoons coriander powder
1 teaspoon turmeric powder
Pinch of asafetida
1 tablespoon ghee
1-2 teaspoons cumin seeds
2 tablespoons chopped leeks
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon garam masala
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
For garnish: chopped cilantro and sliced limes
Begin by rinsing the lentils until water run clears. Soak overnight in filtered water.
Add lentils in a heavy saucepan with fresh water and bring to a boil. Gently scoop off the foam from top using a spoon.
Add fresh ginger, coriander powder, turmeric, and asafetida . Let boil for 2 minutes. Reduce heat, cover, and cook for 45 minutes.
Heat ghee in a separate small frying pan. Toss in leeks and cumin seeds and sauté at a low heat. Allow cumin seeds and leeks to brown slightly before removing.
Gently pour sautéed ingredients to lentils. Finish by adding salt, garam masala, and cinnamon. Stir well! Serve warm on top of a bowl of basmati rice.
Notes: garam masala is a spice mix containing a myriad of digestion-enhancing spices.
To balance Pitta: garnish with plenty of cilantro. Substitute coconut oil for ghee and/or add a bit of coconut milk to dal when adding the last spices.
To balance Kapha: substitute sunflower oil for ghee. Add a hint of pungency with chili powder or 1 clove of garlic.
To balance Vata: use extra ghee and ginger. Add 1 cup cubed yams during cooking time.
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