When I was in college -- okay, when I was in high school -- and my friends and I talked about mood-enhancing substances, we weren't talking about serotonin.
We weren't talking about lentils, either.
Though my misspent youth is far behind me, my body still craves all the mood enhancement it can get, and legumes (lentils, beans and peas) are a good source of serotonin, a neurotransmitter that makes you feel mood-enhanced: balanced, relaxed and happy. With too little serotonin, you end up feeling cranky, sleep-deprived, a bit anxious, sugar-deficient, and in a generally bad mood.
I'm not sure why, but I call brown and green lentils lentils, and pink, white and yellow ones dal. Really, the difference isn't the color; dal are lentils that have been hulled and split.
Stored in a glass jar with a tight-fitting lid, dal will keep for up to two years. Some of the dal that have graced my pantry, in addition to the plain brown and Puy green lentils, are:
- Masoor dal, lentils (red or salmon pink; the ones in the photo)
- Channa dal, split chickpeas (yellow; I always have these)
- Urd (or urad) dal, lentil-like beans (black or, when skinless, white)
- Tur (or toor, or toovar) dal, pigeon peas (orange)
- Moong dal, mung beans (cream or yellow)
- Muth (or moth) dal, beans (brownish green with yellow interior)
- Muttar (or matar) dal, peas (green or white)
Most often, we think of dal as fundamental to Indian cuisine, whether served thick, like a stew, or thin. But now that lentils have been identified as one of the world's healthiest foods, they're lightening up a wide range of dishes, including black bean salad, burgers, tacos and even fudge.
Red lentil, spinach and feta salad
Inspired by a recipe in Happy Food by Marlisa Szwillus, this nutrient-rich, picnic-friendly salad serves 2. Can be doubled.
2 tsp olive oil
2 tsp chopped fresh rosemary or thyme leaves
4 oz red lentils
1 cup vegetable stock or water
2 Tbsp white wine vinegar
Kosher salt and fresh black pepper, to taste
1 Tbsp olive oil
2 scallions, thinly sliced
2 oz baby spinach leaves
4 oz feta cheese, crumbled
Heat 2 tsp olive oil in a saucepan over medium heat, and briefly sauté the rosemary or thyme, just to bring out the aroma. Add the lentils and vegetable stock, cover, and simmer over lowest heat for 10 minutes or until lentils are cooked but not totally mushy.
Drain the lentils and add to a mixing bowl. In a small bowl, stir together the vinegar, salt and pepper, and 1 Tbsp olive oil. Add half to the lentils, and stir to combine. Add remaining ingredients, including remaining dressing, and mix well. Serve warm or at room temperature.
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