My kingdom for a pot of lentils


My kingdom for a pot of lentils

It was eating masoor dal that made LIENTJIE WESSELS realise why you would exchange your birthright for a meal.


IT'S raining cats and dogs in Pretoria and I am sitting at a school in a car that won't start. It happens often, especially when it rains, and then — voilà! — after a while there's a spark again and we're off. The mechanic isn't making any headway and I'm taking videos and forwarding them, hoping we'll get closer to a solution.

In the meantime, I'm waiting for the young man who is writing his final year mathematics exam, thinking about Pythagoras, the Greeks and also lentils (because I always think about food), which have been grown and eaten in Greece since 6000 BC.

Lees hierdie artikel in Afrikaans:

Rain always makes me long for comfort food, like chicken soup, melkkos, vetkoek and pancakes. In my case lentils are also on the list, and here on the screen in my Epicurious app I see black lentils cooked in soy sauce with caramelised onions and fresh herbs. The recipe makes my mouth water and lightens my mood a little — something has to, and it's usually food.

The image on my screen takes me back to the lentils of my childhood and the reason for my association with lentils as comfort food. There was my mother's vegetable soup with lentils and barley, but it was the dal that I first ate with my mother in a restaurant at the Oriental Plaza in Fordsburg — on one of our many trips in search of rags, other beautiful things and spices — to which I lost my heart.

It was when I tasted that masoor dal that I understood what it means to exchange your inheritance/kingdom for a pot of lentils.

Those pinkish-red, split lentils cooked in a concoction of spices, tomato and coconut milk and served with fresh coriander and freshly chopped green chillies on basmati rice are heavenly, and the first bite provides a sense of satisfaction and deep joy.

Lentils have made their mark in food history worldwide for centuries, are full of protein and many other good qualities, are cheap and versatile, as well as fitting for these times.

I would like to share three of my favourite lentil recipes with you.


Masoor dal that stole my heart

Ingredients (for 6 people)

  • 80 ml olive oil
  • 2 brown onions, chopped
  • 4 garlic cloves, finely chopped
  • 4 cm fresh ginger, diced
  • 2 dried chillies (optional)
  • 1 tsp turmeric
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 3 tsp cumin seeds
  • 2 tsp garam masala
  • 2 cups red lentils
  • 2 ripe tomatoes, chopped
  • 8 cups water
  • salt to taste
  • ½ tin coconut cream (optional)


1. Heat oil in pot, add onions and fry for two minutes until slightly soft. Add the garlic, ginger, chillies and spices and fry for another minute, then add the lentils and tomatoes and mix well with the rest of the ingredients.

2. Add the water and coconut cream and turn down the heat. Simmer for about 10-15 minutes until the lentils are soft.

3. Serve with chopped coriander on basmati rice.

Spring lentils with coconut, yoghurt, herbs

Ingredients (for 4 people)

  • 50 ml olive oil
  • 80 g butter
  • 3 medium onions, sliced
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 3 garlic cloves, chopped
  • 1 bunch fresh asparagus, sliced
  • 1 cup frozen peas
  • 1 tsp cumin seeds
  • 1 tsp dried thyme
  • ½ tsp mustard seeds
  • 1 tsp red pepper
  • salt to taste
  • 2 cups cooked brown lentils
  • 2 cups cooked basmati rice
  • 250 ml Greek yoghurt
  • 80 ml dried coconut, toasted
  • handful of chopped herbs for serving


1. Heat the oil and butter in a pan, add the onions and fry until golden brown and caramelised. Remove from heat and set aside for serving.

2. Place 2 spoons of the onions in the pot with the garlic, vegetables,  spices and herbs and cook for 2 minutes until soft.

3. Add the lentils and rice and cook for another 5 minutes on a lower heat.

4. Serve with yoghurt, caramelised onions, toasted coconut and chopped herbs.

Pasta with lentils and mushrooms

Ingredients (for 4 people)

  • 60 g butter
  • 1 large onion, finely chopped
  • 2 garlic cloves, chopped
  • 250 g mushrooms, sliced
  • 1 packet of tomato paste
  • 1 tbsp white miso (optional)
  • 1 ½ cups cooked brown lentils
  • 2 tbsp fresh chopped herbs or 1 tsp dried, mixed herbs
  • 3 cups pasta of your choice
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 80 ml grated parmesan cheese
  • olive oil
  • chopped parsley


1. Melt the butter in a pan and add the onions. Fry for 2 minutes until soft then add garlic and fry for another minute. Add the mushrooms and fry until just brown.

2. Now add tomato paste, white miso, lentils and herbs and continue cooking for a few more minutes. Add a little water and cook for another 2 minutes.

3. Serve the sauce on pasta of your choice with parmesan cheese, olive oil and chopped parsley.

♦ VWB ♦

BE PART OF THE CONVERSATION: Go to the bottom of this page to share your opinion. We look forward to hearing from you.

Speech Bubbles

To comment on this article, register (it's fast and free) or log in.

First read Vrye Weekblad's Comment Policy before commenting.