(Indian spicy dal soup)
Pleasantly light and spicy, delicately textured, but with sass, this recipe was adapted from a newspaper recipe many years ago by Ruth Long of Great Falls, Virginia, whose roots go deep into India and who has lived all over the world. The soup is traditional to southern India and can be varied with coconut, chilis, and ginger, not to mention tamarind and even asafoetida. This is a really lovely version, though. Serve hot to 4-6 people as a first course.
Ruth says, "I grew up in India as a child of missionaries and we love the cuisine. It is always a choice between Indian food or Chinese when we go out to eat as my mother and her family were missionaries for generations in India and my father's family lived in China for generations. I met my own husband in India where our son was the fourth generation to be born in India. Our second son was born in Afghanistan. My husband and I spent 35 years in the foreign service and this soup has been around the world with us."
Garnish: chopped cilantro
Bring water to boil in a saucepan, add the lentils, reduce heat, cover, and cook until tender, about 30 minutes.
Meanwhile, heat the oil in a heavy pot to medium high, add the mustard and cumin seeds, and let cook until the seeds begin to pop. Reduce heat to low and cover for a minute or two. Be careful that the seeds don't burn. Toss in the quartered tomatoes, the pepper, cumin, and minced garlic and saute for a few minutes to release and concentrate flavors. Add one cup of water and salt and scrape up the pan to dissolve into the water. Let boil uncovered until the liquid is reduced by half.
Stir in the lentils, and add enough water to bring the quantity up to 6 cups. Let simmer for 10-20 minutes.
When ready to serve, whisk in the lemon juice, ladle into bowls, and sprinkle each with finely chopped cilantro leaves.