Lentils with Tomatoes and Cilantro Recipe

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There are many versions of this north Indian recipe, as the name literally means “spiced, flavored lentils.” There are several Indian words that describe the process of tempering foods, including “tarka,” “tadka,” “vaghaar,” or “phodni.” Spices or ingredients, such as tomatoes, garlic, ginger, or chilies, are cooked in hot oil to extract and develop their flavor. Tempering can be done at the beginning of cooking, where for example, spices and onions are cooked before adding the main ingredient, or at the end, when for example, cumin seeds may be fried in oil and poured over a curry. The oil contains the aromatic oils extracted from the spices and becomes “flavored” itself.

Serves 4.


  • 1 cup mung (moong) lentils
  • 1 teaspoon cumin seeds
  • 2 fresh green chilies, slit in half lengthwise and stalks left on
  • 2 tomatoes, diced (seeds and all)
  • 1 teaspoon ground turmeric
  • 1 teaspoon garam masala
  • a handful of fresh cilantro leaves, chopped


  1. Wash the lentils in a strainer under running cold water until the water runs clear. Put them into a heavy-based saucepan and then pour double the quantity of boiling water over them (don’t salt the lentils at this stage, as they can take longer to cook if you do).
  2. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat and simmer until very soft, about 30 minutes, adding more boiling water as they absorb what’s in the pan. Ensure that the lentils are submerged at all times. When the lentils are cooked, they should have completely disintegrated and resemble oatmeal.
  3. Meanwhile, warm 2 tablespoons of sunflower oil in a separate saucepan on high heat and add the cumin seeds. As they begin to crackle and change color, add 1 teaspoon of Ginger-garlic Paste and cook for 30 seconds, then add the chilies and cook for a further few seconds. Tip in the tomatoes and cook for 3–4 minutes, until soft. Stir in the turmeric and garam masala, add a little cold water and bring to a bubble.
  4. Carefully pour in the cooked lentils, along with all the cooking liquid (no need to drain) and season with salt. The mixture should have a pouring consistency.
  5. Sprinkle the cilantro over, and serve hot with plain boiled rice or Rotis. 

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Cover courtesy of Kyle Books

Excerpted with permission from Indian in 7 by Monisha Bharadwaj (Kyle Books, 2019).

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