For those who grew up with the notion that lentils belong in soups and salads and not much else, or for whom bean dishes in general just don't hold much appeal, this Moroccan dish will be a bit of a revelation. Who knew that lentils, all on their own, could be so good?!
The traditional Moroccan treatment for these tiny legumes is to stew them until tender in a flavorful sauce with tomatoes, onions, garlic and hearty quantities of Moroccan spices and herbs. We do notch up the seasoning a bit as we like lentils extra zesty and saucy, but for palates that don't lean toward a preference for piquant, the seasoning below will suffice.
Moroccan stewed lentils can be served as a side dish or entrée. Many families make them weekly or regularly offer them alongside fried fish. This recipe is the vegetarian version, but meat may certainly be added.
You may find that lentils purchased in American supermarkets tend to cook faster than Moroccan or Middle Eastern lentils, so adjust the cooking time if necessary. Whatever lentils you use, be sure to pick through them to remove any debris or small stones. Wash them thoroughly before cooking. Soaking is not necessary.
The cooking time below is for a pressure cooker, which is regarded as standard cooking equipment in Moroccan kitchens. If simmering the lentils conventionally in a pot, allow for double the time and keep an eye on liquids.
- 2 cups brown or green lentils
- 2 or 3 large, ripe tomatoes, grated
- 1 medium onion, chopped
- 3 to 5 cloves of garlic, finely chopped or pressed
- 4 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley and cilantro
- 2 1/2 teaspoons cumin
- 2 1/2 teaspoons paprika
- 1 1/2 teaspoons ginger
- 1/2 teaspoon pepper
- Optional: cayenne pepper, to taste
- 2 teaspoons salt, or to taste
- Mix all ingredients in a pressure cooker or heavy-bottomed pot. Add 2 liters (about 2 quarts) of water, and bring to a simmer.
- Follow one of the methods below.
- Pressure cooker method. Cover, and cook on pressure over medium heat for 35 to 40 minutes, or until the lentils are tender. If the lentils are still submerged in sauce, you must reduce the liquids so that the sauce is ample, but not watery. Adjust the seasoning if desired, and serve.
- Pot method. Cover, and simmer the lentils over medium heat about 1 1/2 hours, or until the lentils are tender and the sauce is not watery. (If the liquids reduce too much during cooking, add a little water to prevent the lentils from burning.) Adjust the seasoning if desired, and serve.
- You can serve the lentils in individual bowls or on plates, but when offering the lentils as a main course, Moroccan tradition is to serve them on a communal platter, with each diner eating from his side of the dish.
- Crusty bread such as Moroccan khobz is traditionally used to scoop up the lentils and sauce, but go ahead and eat with a spoon if you prefer.
- Some of the olive oil can be replaced with vegetable oil; this is the habit of some Moroccan cooks as a matter of frugality or because their olive oil is extra virgin and a little goes a long way in terms of flavor.
- We sometimes add a little swirl of extra virgin olive oil to the lentils at the end of cooking; try it, it's good!
- The lentils will absorb some of the sauce the longer they sit; if making in advance, allow for this or plan to add a little water (not much) when reheating.
- To reheat leftover lentils, heat gently in a heavy-bottomed pot or skillet, stirring from time to time to prevent the lentils from sticking to the bottom of the pan.