Instant Pot Sri Lankan Red Lentils (Masoor Dal)

  Okay, so this was my first instant pot experiment, and I definitely went wrong in a few ways. For one, red lentils are delicate and don’t actually take that long to cook, so it doesn’t really make sense to make them in a pressure cooker — the stovetop works fine. All the lentil recipes I looked at warned against red lentils for the pressure cooker!

But I love them, and they’re what I normally cook if I’m making a Sri Lankan lentil dish — I’m pretty sure that’s common throughout the country. Also, I’m nothing if not stubborn. So I figured what the heck, let’s try.

And so I cobbled together a recipe from suggestions here and there, using my own regular Sri Lankan red lentil recipe as the base, and set it going. Only to hear a beep and see the ‘burning’ alarm! OH NO.

(I admit to a brief moment of panic there, that I had perhaps just broken my new expensive device!)

But it turned out to be basically fine — when my instant pot thinks it doesn’t have enough water, and things have started sticking to the bottom, it turns itself off (and tells you it’s burning). So I opened it up, took the lentils out, and there was a little stuck to the bottom, yes, but I’d say more caramelized than burnt; I didn’t feel like it hurt the flavors at all. (A bit of a nuisance to clean, but not bad. Soaking took care of it.)

The lentils overall were quite porridge-like in consistency, but that’s actually how I usually cook them on the stovetop anyway; I like them better that way than the more soup-y preparation that is common. But I’m pretty sure that if you just added 1-2 c. of water, you’d get that version, and without the ‘burning’ warning!

I’ll try that next time, just to know for certain, but here’s the ‘burning’ porridge version, for your amusement. I served it to guests, and they said it was delicous!

2-3 T oil or ghee

2 medium onions
1 stick of cinnamon
3 strips of lemon rind (about a quarter lemon)
dozen curry leaves
2 c. red lentils
1 can coconut milk + 2 can water
1 dried red chili, broken into pieces
1 pinch saffron
1 t. salt

1. Dice two medium onions and put in Instapot with oil, cinnamon stick, lemon rind, and curry leaves. Sauté 2 minutes, stirring. Hit cancel to stop the sauté function.

2. Add lentils, coconut milk, chili, and saffron to pot (should not be more than 1/2 up the pot interior).

3. Seal the lid, then set to cook on HIGH pressure for 10 minutes. (It will take about 8 minutes for the pressure to build, then the timer will begin.) [note –I’m not actually sure where in here it turned itself off, but close to 10 minutes, I think]

4. Once the timer has stopped, let the pressure release naturally for 15 minutes, then vent to release the pressure completely.

5. Open the lid, taste, and adjust seasoning as desired. Serve hot with rice, garnished with cilantro.

Pongee

Happy Pongal! Pongal is a four-day-long harvest festival celebrated in Tamil Nadu and Sri Lanka (this year it’s Tues Jan 15 – Fri Jan 18) — when crops like rice are harvested. Yes, it’s a little goofy celebrating it in Chicago in midwinter, but any excuse to celebrate, right?

I haven’t made pongal (rice & lentil porridge) before, but I think it came out pretty well. A quick, simple, one-pot dish, packed with protein, that would be even better accompanied by a nice curry –– eggplant, perhaps? Coconut chutney and sambar are traditional accompaniments.

Pongal
20 minutes, serves 4

1 c. rice
1 c. moong dal
4 c. water
1/2 t. salt

2 T butter or ghee
1/2 c. cashews
1/2 c. sultanas
1 t. cumin seeds
8-12 fresh curry leaves
1-2 green chilies, chopped, optional

1. Add rice, dal, water, and salt to a pot. Bring to a boil, cover, and let simmer 15-20 minutes, until cooked.

2. While rice is cooking, heat butter or ghee, sauté cashews, stirring, until golden. Add cumin seeds, sultanas, curry leaves, and green chili if using, stirring for a few more minutes. Mix into cooked rice & lentils and serve hot.

Other standard ingredients: chopped ginger, pinch of asafoetida, turmeric, black peppercorns (whole or crushed).

 

Pistachio & Rosewater Mini Scones

Delicate and fragrant, with a little nutty goodness to add to your morning or teatime. (If you don’t have a mini scone pan, you can cut and shape these by hand, and bake on a regular baking sheet, placing them quite close together.  If you pop them in the freezer for 30 minute before baking, they’ll hold shape better.)
 
2 3/4 cups flour
1/3 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/2 cup cold butter
1/2 c. chopped pistachios
1/2 c. dried edible rose petals
2 large eggs
1 T rosewater
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 t. lime zest
1/2 cup milk
 
Glaze:
3 1/2 c. powdered sugar
6 T water
1 T lime juice (or substitute water for a plain sugar glaze)
 
1. Preheat oven to 375F. Spray mini scone pan with Baker’s Joy (or butter and flour pan, which will be kind of a pain).
 
2. Mix dry ingredients in a large bowl. Chop butter in small pieces and cut into flour with a pastry cutter (or with your fingers) until mixture resembles coarse meal. (It’s fine to have small lumps.) Stir in pistachios and rose petals.
 
 
3. In a medium bowl, combine remaining 5 scone ingredients, beating eggs lightly. Pour into dry mixture and stir with a fork until a soft dough forms.
 
4. Turn out onto a lightly floured board and knead a few times. Cut into 16 equal pieces and press into the cavities of the pan.
 
5. Bake 20-25 or until medium brown. Let cool 20 minutes in pan, then remove from pan to wire rack and cool completely. Serve warm, with coffee or tea.
 
6. Optional: Glaze. In a medium bowl, combine powdered sugar, water, and lime juice. Line a baking sheet (with sides) with parchment. Pour glaze in, then dip scones in glaze. Remove to wire rack to dry. Alternately, drizzle glaze over the top.

Quinoa & Red Rice Bowl with Mackerel Curry

I’ve been experimenting with alternatives to white rice, and alternatives to the traditional Sri Lankan way of eating rice, which is a big plate of rice with a little curry on top. That’s reasonably frugal, but also pretty high in starch and low in fiber (things I pay attention to as I get older and my metabolism slows down).

The problem is that it just doesn’t work to simply reduce the amount of rice and add in quinoa, because you can’t eat it the same way, rolling up the rice and curry into satisfying little balls with your hand and popping them in your mouth. The texture is wrong, the rice and curry won’t hold together in those proportions, etc.

So I figured maybe there was something to this quinoa bowl thing that’s so popular right now, and maybe if I tried to compose a Sri Lankan bowl, that might work better. The red rice + quinoa (cooked in a mix of chicken broth and water) on its own was a little dry, esp. after the first day, so I knew I wanted to add plenty of unctuous rich flavor. Fried egg was an obvious contender (egg hoppers are classic Sri Lankan food, and so delicious), and mackerel curry is nicely traditional (and deliciously spicy). Avocado lent another creamy element, and a cool balance to the heat, and a crisp kale-coconut-onion-tomato sambol was the perfect vegetal accompaniment.

I wasn’t even hungry, but dear reader, I DEVOURED this bowl, and was tempted to fry another egg and go back for seconds. Experiment: wildly successful. (Bonus, this would be easy to pack up and take to work to eat with a fork in the office.)

Tomorrow, maybe I’ll try it with beef curry, for poor Kevin, who doesn’t appreciate fish. Pretty sure that will also work great, keeping all the other elements the same. (A little seeni sambol added in wouldn’t hurt either…)

Mixed Grains

Okay, this is slightly tricky, since you need to cook it in two batches, but a) tasty, b) nutritious, and c) pretty! I cooked a mix of red rice and quinoa in the rice cooker (on the brown rice setting, which is very slow, so allow extra time). And then cooked some short-grain white rice also in the rice cooker (faster). And then mixed them all together. Yum!

Nutrition comparison below (based on quick googling).

One cup cooked of:
– short-grain white rice (267 calories, 58.9 g carbs, 4.8 g protein, 0 fiber)
– long-grain white rice (205 calories, 44.5 g carbs, 4.3 g protein, 1 fiber
– red rice (216 calories, 45 g carbs, 5 g protein, 4 g fiber)
– quinoa (222 calories, 29 g carbs, 8 g protein, 5 g fiber)