Masoor Dal

2 cups red lentils, rinsed
1 1-inch hunk of peeled fresh ginger
1/4 teaspoon ground turmeric
1 whole garlic clove, peeled
Optional: 1 cinnamon stick, 1 star anise pod, 1 bay leaf
1-2 teaspoons coarse salt
3 tablespoons vegetable oil
Pinch asafetida (optional)
1 1/2 teaspoons cumin seeds
1-2 cloves garlic, chopped
1/2-1 medium onion, sliced into thin half-moons
1/4 teaspoon cayenne
6-12 baby tomatoes, halved

Place rinsed lentils in a heavy-bottomed pot and add enough water to cover, plus one inch (about four cups). Add ginger, turmeric and garlic, and any or all of the optional whole spices. Use what you have on hand and what you like — I am partial to the star anise pod and the cinnamon stick.

Bring to a boil, then lower heat, cover and cook lentils at a simmer, until tender, about 30 minutes. Remove whole spices and season with salt, stirring and tasting with each addition.

In a skillet, heat oil over medium heat and add asafetida (if using), quickly cooking for about 10 seconds, followed by cumin seeds (30 seconds), then garlic and onions. Cook over medium heat, allowing onions to brown at edges. Add cayenne and tomatoes, and season with salt to taste. Pour seasoned mixture into soup, stir and serve.

Makes at least four main-course servings.
from Kim O’Donnell.