Dal Adas is a simple and wholesome spicy dish from the southern part of Iran. This dish is made with red lentils and has a nice degree of heat because of the ground cayenne pepper that I have used in the recipe. Dal Adas is a vegetarian stew that is served over rice or with a side of bread. This is a quick and satisfying meal with a rich combination of tart and spicy flavors. Red lentils require the least amount of cooking compared to the other varieties. In general lentils cook faster than any of the legumes, which require several hours of soaking in water before cooking.
Lentils are low in calories and high in protein, iron, fiber, and many minerals. The slow absorbing starch in lentils makes them suitable for people with blood sugar disorders. Lentils are an inexpensive source of high quality protein and a perfect addition to any vegetarian diet. This is an ancient legume that originated in Central Asia, but now it is grown successfully in different parts of the world and its culinary use dates back for centuries. Red lentils are used in different dhal recipes across India with some variation of ingredients and spices in different regions.
One can easily prepare a meal with lentils practically in minutes. I love the different varieties of lentils and regularly use brown and green lentils in Adas Polo, Aash Reshteh, and in salads. The green and brown lentils keep their shape and nutty flavor nicely during cooking. I also love red lentils because they absorb the flavors of spices and other ingredients in soups or aash and they are natural thickening agents. When cooked long enough, the red lentils become incorporated into the soups or aash in the form of puree. I add some diced potatoes to give this stew a chunky texture and substance.
I have used shallots in my recipe because of the nice flavor that they add to any recipe especially to this one, but yellow onions will also work here. In addition to the ground turmeric I have used fresh turmeric which has an almost floral aroma with a different flavor than the turmeric powder. Lately I have been noticing fresh turmeric in the produce department of some supermarkets as well as Indian and Asian markets, but if you can’t find it just use more of the powder.
An ingredient that some of you might not be familiar with is “Tamarind,” which you can see in this picture http://www.herbazest.com/herbs/tamarind. Dried tamarind pods are available in some specialty supermarkets. The prepared and packaged tamarind is also available in Persian and Middle Eastern markets. Tamarind is a sweet and sour tropical fruit with seeds that grows in a long pod. You will be able to find packages of prepared “seedless” tamarind, which is what I have used in this recipe. However, I have occasionally found seeds and pieces of hard shell inside the tamarind and recommend checking it carefully. It is worth mentioning that tamarind is a popular snack among Persian children and some adults, so maybe you would like to give it a try when you’re preparing it for this recipe! Tamarind will be soaked and mixed with hot water and then pressed through a sieve to separate the smooth sauce from the chewy fibers. It is this dried fruit that gives a very pleasant tart flavor to this spicy dish.
The fresh turmeric rhizoms (left photo, next to garlic) which are underground stems are a cross between a carrot and ginger. The skin is very thin and orange brown in color and easily scrapes away to reveal a deep orange colored flesh. Fresh turmeric is sold in the produce aisle of the specialty supermarkets, Asian and Indian stores. The seedless tamarind comes in packaged blocks and you can break off as much as you need and store the rest in the refrigerator for several weeks. Place the tamarind in a small bowl and pour hot water over it, smash it with a fork and let it sit for a few minutes. Stir it several times to create a thick sauce.
Use the fork to press the tamarind and water mixture through a sieve or colander with small holes. Collect the smooth sauce in a bowl and set it aside.
Add the thinly sliced shallots to a nonstick 3-Qt saucepan and fry in ghee or butter (vegetable oil maybe used instead for the vegan version) until golden brown. Reserve 1/4 cup of the fried shallots for later. Add the turmeric powder, chopped turmeric and garlic to the remaining fried shallots and saute over low heat for a few minutes until tender. Add the tomato paste, stir and saute until aromatic. Add the red lentils, diced potatoes, salt, cayenne pepper, curry powder, and water to the saucepan. Bring it to a boil, then reduce the heat, cover the saucepan and simmer until the potatoes and lentils are tender but firm. Add the tamarind sauce and the reserved fried shallots and cook some more until thickened.
Serve this delicious spicy Dal Adas with rice or bread. I usually have my cayenne shaker at the table in case someone wants to add even more heat to this very satisfying simple dish!
- 4 ounces seedless tamarind (may substitute with 2 TBSP fresh lemon juice or more to taste)
- ½ cup hot water, for soaking the tamarind (leave it out if using lemon juice)
- 1 cup red lentils
- 1 medium potato, peeled and diced small
- 5 medium shallots, peeled and roughly chopped (or a large yellow onion thinly sliced)
- 3 TBSP ghee or butter (for vegan version use vegetable oil)
- One 3-4 inch fresh turmeric, peeled and minced (may substitute with ¼ tsp extra ground turmeric)
- ½ tsp ground turmeric
- ¼ tsp Persian meat spice or your favorite curry powder
- A pinch each of ground cinnamon and cardamom
- ¼ tsp ground cayenne pepper (more to taste, if you like it even spicier)
- 1 tsp tomato paste
- 3-4 garlic cloves, minced (about 1 ½ TBSP)
- ½ tsp kosher salt, more to taste
- 2 ½ cups hot water
- Pick through red lentils, rinse under cold water and drain. Set aside.
- Break up the seedless tamarind into small pieces and add it to a medium bowl. Discard any hard shells or possible overlooked seeds. Pour ½ cup boiling water over it, smash with a fork and let it rest for 10 minutes. Stir several times to create a thick sauce. Place a strainer with small holes over a bowl and use a fork to force the sauce through it. You should be able to end up with about ⅓ cup thick smooth sauce. Set it aside.
- Heat ghee or butter in a nonstick 3-Qt saucepan. Add the roughly chopped shallots and saute over medium low heat until golden brown. Remove 3-4 tablespoons of the shallots from the saucepan and set aside for later. Add the minced fresh turmeric and garlic to the remaining fried shallots. Saute 2-3 minutes over low heat until tender. Add 1 teaspoon tomato paste and saute for another minute until aromatic.
- Add red lentils, diced potatoes, kosher salt, spices, and 2 ½ cups hot water to the saucepan. Bring it to a boil. Cover the saucepan, lower the heat to the marking between medium low and low and simmer for 15-20 minutes until the potatoes and lentils are tender. Stir several times to prevent sticking.
- Add the reserved tamarind sauce and the reserved fried shallots to the saucepan with the cooked lentils and other ingredients.
- Cover the saucepan and cook for another 15 minutes, or until the Dal Adas has thickened and the flavors have blended well. Stir several times to prevent sticking and burning. Add more water as needed to maintain a soft oatmeal consistency; it should not be thin like soup but it should not be too thick or dry either.
- Serve this delicious spicy Dal Adas with Kateh (quick Persian rice) or a side of toasted bread.