Brown Lentil Street Salad - Killing Your Inner Perfectionist

November 16, 2011 1 Comment

Kill your inner perfectionist: Back in elementary school at Candlebrook in King of Prussia, PA, there was a boy David who everyone knew was really, really smart. He dressed smart (well, cleaner and better put together than the rest of us), walked smart, acted smart, and was expected to perform when it came to tests. He's the one we always looked towards to be the top scorer.

Until one fateful summer day.

Our teacher handed out an unexpected math quiz. A one-page list of multiplication problems. We were instructed to go through the sheet as fast a possible and answer as many as we could. When the teacher called time, everyone put their pencils down with most of our sheets completed. I looked over to David. He was hunched over his paper, gripping his pencil tight and sweating. He was attempting to still put the final touches on his second line of sums. He only got that far because he'd spent so much time carefully crafting each numbered answer; looping his 2 carefully at the top, making sure that 5 had the perfect tail, and that his 3's were to die for.

But none of that perfection mattered in the race to finish and in time. His inner perfectionist held him back from completing the task at hand and more than likely that day he took home his first failing grade.

As a writer and a mother and a wife and a chauffeur, line cook, nurse, and everything else I do in my day I want my time to curl my 5's and loop my 2's just so. It 'aint happening. So if I'm waiting for the perfect time to sit down and write that perfect blog post - you the reader will never get it. And if I wait to find the perfect amount of 15 minutes to sit and reply to all my emails likely my in-box will be jammed with the 1,968 unanswered emails that sit there to this day. And if I wait to put those shoes at the door away because the rest of the house is a crazy mess, the crazy mess will just keep piling and piling and piling up.

For most things in your day-to-day good enough IS just that. Good enough. Not because that's all you have to give, but because rather than doing it absolutely perfectly you just got it done. No. Better yet - you just got it started. And THAT my friends is true, realistic perfection.

To this day, I still wonder whatever happened to David - Mr. Perfect. I have one thing to say to him:

"Eat your heart out. I may not be perfect, but at least I'm getting it done!"

I love cooking Indian food because there's never a need to be a perfectionist. Whenever I teach classes and give lectures, I emphasize that Indian food is incredibly forgiving. No worries if you add a little extra ginger...garam masala...or chilies. There's always a way to offset it (maybe with a little more water or by adding lemon juice). Unlike other cuisines you don't have to be precise with your chopping and cuts. The less precision, in fact, the tastier. That's what delicious homestyle Indian is all about.

Brown Lentil Street Salad
Here's a salad that will help you get it done without jumping through hoops. It's so incredibly simple, easy, nutritious, and incredibly kid friendly. Neha and Aria actually love this salad in their lunch boxes. You can give it to them as is or serve over a bed of rice. The nice thing is that the lentils hold up really well until lunchtime.

(Photo by Brave New Pictures for Anupy's upcoming book on Vegan Indian Cooking)

Indian salads are so easy to make and so much fun to eat because they are delicious. Cilantro and spices provide flavor rather than oil, making these salads some of the healthiest around. You can use any cooked beans or lentils, but one of my kids’ favorites is brown whole lentils (masoor dal). Feel free to sub any veggies as well. I love grating anything and everything in from beets to carrots to chopped cooked potatoes or even celery.

4 cups cooked beans or lentils (see recipe below for slow cooked)
1 medium red onion, peeled and diced (1 cup)
1 medium tomato, diced (1 cup)
1 small cucumber, diced (1/2 cup)
1 medium daikon, peeled and grated (1 cup)
1 - 2 green Thai, serrano, or cayenne chilies, stems removed, chopped
1/4 cup cilantro, minced
1 large lemon, juiced
1 teaspoon coarse sea salt
1/2 teaspoon black salt (kala namak)
1/2 teaspoon chaat masala
1/2 teaspoon red chile powder or cayenne
1 teaspoon fresh white turmeric, peeled and grated (optional)

1. Mix all ingredients together in a deep bowl. Serve immediately as a side salad, wrapped in a lettuce leaf or do as I do and serve with a side of warm brown basmati rice as a quick meal for the kids.
Note: It’s not easy to find fresh turmeric let alone white turmeric, but if you happen to come across it (it's mostly found at Indian grocery stores), a little grated and sprinkled over the salad will provide an extra layer of taste as well as nutrition.

Making whole beans and lentils in your slow cooker is so easy it's almost laughable that we go out and buy more expensive and less nutritious canned or frozen options. For the above recipe I used brown, whole Masoor Dal. That's the lentil that when split and skinned looks salmon colored (though when you cook it turns yellow - go figure). You can find it at just about any grocer, Indian or otherwise. Just put 3 cups of the whole form of the lentil (cleaned and washed) into a 3 1/2 quart slow cooker. Add 5 cups water, cook on low for 3 hours. When finished, drain in a colander and use right away, put in fridge for up to 2 weeks and up to 3 months in the freezer.

1 Response


December 08, 2011

Hi, Anupy! Thanks for the wonderful dishes you shared with me last week. The day after I picked them up, my husband warmed up some nan from Trader Joe’s (hope that’s not a heresy!) and we feasted. I don’t know the names of the dishes, so I’ll describe them.

First up were the black lentils with rice. This was a spicy dish that we enjoyed a great deal. Second was a dish with yellow lentils (or split peas?) and split chickpeas with tomatoes. We also liked the seasoning of this dish very much. Third was a recipe for white lima beans. The flavors of this dish were more subtle, so it resonated a little less with us, but I liked it as well. Of the three, I’d say the middle dish was our favorite. That is one I definitely would try making!

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