Urad Dal with Poppy Seeds and Cilantro

MAKES: 4 servings

TIME: About 30 minutes, largely unattended

The best translation for urad dal is peeled and split black lentils, but that’s not quite right either. Never mind; youв’ll find them in Indian and Asian markets and sometimes good natural food stores. This fast recipe uses a tarka spices, quickly toasted in butter or oil to season the beans after they have cooked. If you don’t happen to have poppy seeds handy, omit them or substitute sesame or sunflower seeds.

The color of this dish is unusual, with the ivory urad dal providing the backdrop for the specks of poppy seeds and fresh herbs. The consistency depends on how much water you add during cooking. I love it as a thick sauce, to pour over basmati rice and Grilled or Broiled Eggplant. It’s vegan with oil instead of butter.

Other beans you can use: any kind of lentil or split pea.

11/2 cups dried urad dal, washed, picked over, and soaked if you like

2 or 3 dried Thai chiles (optional)

4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) butter or 1/4 cup peanut oil

2 tablespoons peeled and minced fresh ginger

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

2 tablespoons poppy seeds

1 cup minced fresh cilantro or a mixture of parsley and cilantro

Put the dal in a medium pot with the chiles if you’re using them and add enough water to cover by about 1/2 inch. Bring to a boil, then turn the heat down to medium-low so the mixture bubbles steadily but not violently. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the beans are soft, about 20 minutes or so, adding more water as needed to keep everything moist and reach the consistency you like.

While the beans are cooking, put the butter or oil in a small skillet over medium heat. When the butter is melted or the oil is hot, add the ginger and cook, stirring constantly, until soft and golden, about 3 minutes. Sprinkle with lots of salt and pepper, then add the poppy seeds, stirring to coat with the oil and toast for just a minute or so. Add the herbs and cook until just wilted and brightly colored. Turn off the heat.

When the beans are tender, stir in the poppy seed mixture. Taste, adjust the seasoning, and serve.