Smoky Lentils with Tomato

Photo: Kelly Rossiter

A new Indian restaurant opened a few weeks ago in my neighborhood, which makes two within walking distance of my house, and happily, both are quite good. When we ate there this week, I was surprised when my husband said that my aloo gobi was better than theirs — but he was right. However, their butter chicken was definitely better than mine. I keep searching for a recipe that can match a restaurant version. I've come close, but I'm not there yet.
Somehow eating Indian food makes me just want more the next day. I have lots of really good Indian cookbooks but I often turn to "India's Vegetarian Cooking" by Monisha Bharadwaj because the recipes are generally fairly short and easy to make and you can try out recipes from different regions, with different flavors depending on how you are feeling that day. I had a fair bit of this left over, so I added some vegetable broth to it the next day and turned it into a soup for my lunch.
A note on ingredients: I made this recipe for smoky lentils with tomato with my home canned tomatoes rather than fresh as the recipe calls for, because it's November and fresh tomatoes are all hot house and aren't worth eating. I wish I had noticed the note above that said you could substitute the tomato for eggplant or pumpkin, which I think would be delicious, too. I don't use tamarind concentrate as it calls for in the recipe. I buy it in hunks and break pieces off and then add boiling water to it. Then I put it in a sieve and use the liquid. The recipe also calls for a cooked spice mixture, which I didn't do. I added some of the spices directly to the mixture.

Prep time: 15 minutes 

Total time: 50 minutes 

Yields: 4 servings

Smokey Lentils with Tomato


  • 1 cup split red lentils, washed and drained
  • Salt to taste
  • 1 tsp tamarind concentrate, diluted in 4 teaspoons water
  • 3 ripe tomatoes, chopped
  • 1/2 tsp coriander seeds
  • 1/2 tsp cumin seeds
  • 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 2 tbsp vegetable oil
  • 1/2 tsp black mustard seeds
  • 4 dried red chilies, deseeded and crumbled
  • Large pinch of asafoetida (optional)
  • 12 curry leaves
Cooking directions
  1. Put the lentils and double their volume of hot water into a pan and bring to the boil. Reduce the heat and simmer until the lentils are mushy, for about 30 minutes
  2. Add the salt, tamarind, tomatoes and spices and simmer for a couple of minutes. then take off the heat and reserve.
  3. Heat the oil in a small saucepan and add the mustard seeds. When they crackle, add the chilies, asafoetida, if using, and the curry leaves.
  4. Pour over the lentils. Mix well and serve with rice.

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Smoky Lentils with Tomato
Add vegetable stock to your leftovers and you can make a soup out of this versatile dish.