1 3/4 cups red lentils
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
3 teaspoons cumin seeds
2 teaspoons mustard seeds
1 white onion, peeled and finely diced
1 1/2 inches fresh ginger, peeled and grated
2 garlic cloves, peeled and finely chopped
1 red chili pepper, stemmed, seeded and chopped
3 teaspoons curry powder
4 teaspoons ground cumin
1 teaspoon turmeric
Pinch of chili powder
1 tablespoon tomato puree
2 sticks cinnamon (or 1, if large)
1 2/3 to 2 cups vegetable stock or water
Sea salt, as needed
Juice of 1 lemon
1 bunch fresh mint and cilantro, chopped

Rinse the lentils, place in a pan and cover with cold water. Bring to a boil, then drain in a fine sieve, rinse with cold water and drain again.

Heat the oil in a large pan, add the cumin and mustard seeds and stand back — as they hit hot oil they will splutter and spit. Cook for 30 seconds. Add the onion. (This will reduce temperature in pan immediately; be careful not to burn seeds, or dal will be bitter.) Cook over medium heat until softened. Add the ginger, garlic, chili pepper, curry powder, cumin, turmeric and chili powder and fry for 3 minutes. Add the tomato puree and fry for 1 minute.

Add lentils, the cinnamon and stock and bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer and cook for 15 minutes or until lentils are tender and dal has thickened. (Add a little water if too thick.) Remove from heat, season with sea salt and add the lemon juice to taste. Let cool a little before adding the herbs (otherwise they will discolor). Serve warm.

Makes 4 servings.

— Recipe from "The Modern Vegetarian: Food Adventures for the Contemporary Palate," by Maria Elia.