This vegan lentil stew — inspired by the classic Indian dish “dal” — makes a surprisingly satisfying breakfast: It’s kinda sweet and kinda salty, thus appealing both to those who want a starchy, sweet start to the day and to those (myself included) who need a plate of filling, savory food to get going.
Of course you can enjoy this dish at any time of the day, diluted, if you like, into a more soupy texture with stock, water or coconut milk (heavenly!). If you’re wondering how on earth to find the time to cook dal in the morning: cook it ahead! I usually make twice this amount, freeze it in small containers and defrost these whenever the need arises, mornings included. I also freeze batches of cooked basmati rice to serve alongside this dish and others.
From a nutritional point of view this hits all the right buttons, for almost every ingredient in this dish has anti-cancer properties. Here’s a non-exhaustive list:
- Onions and garlic contain organosulfur compounds that help prevent the onset and progression of certain types of cancers, especially of the stomach, colon and rectum, larynx and esophagus.
- Ginger has powerful anti-inflammatory properties has been found to induce cell death in ovarian cancer cells and to inhibit the growth of colorectal cancer cells.
- Curry powder, and specifically one spice that gives it its yellow color, turmeric, can reduce inflammation, inhibit the rapid growth of cancer cells, induce their self-destruction (apoptosis) and discourage the growth of blood vessels feeding tumors.
- Legumes such as lentils contain plant chemicals that play a role in cancer prevention, such as saponins, protease inhibitors and phytic acid. Many legumes also contain natural compounds that resemble a weak form of estrogen. These may protect against certain types of cancer, notably breast and prostate cancer. Legumes eaten with rice constitute complete proteins, making this combo a boon for vegans and vegetarians.
- Apples contain a long list of cancer-protective plant compounds such as quercetin, chlorogenic acid and (when they’re red) anthocyanins. These are mostly concentrated in the skin, so buy organic apples and leave the skin on. Research suggests that apples can help lower the risk of variuos cancer types, including colon, breast and lung cancer.
- Tomatoes are rich in antioxidant and anti-inflammatory compounds (the best-known of which is lycopene) and are thought to lower the risk of prostate, breast and pancreatic cancer. One of its compounds, called alpha-tomatine, has also been shown in laboratory studies to trigger the self-destruction (apoptosis) of prostate cancer cells.
- Citrus fruit such as limes contain a range of compounds with antioxidant, anti-cancer and immune-boosting properties. Limes, for instance, contain flavonoids that have been shown to stop cell division in various types of cancer cells.
- Cilantro contains an exceptionally high concentration of plant nutrients (e.g. carvol, geraniol, limonene, quercetin, apigenin, kaempferol and many others) with antimicrobial and blood-sugar balancing properties.
- Coconut oil and ghee, whilst not having any proven “anti-cancer” properties per se, are excellent fats to use for cooking as they do not degrade at higher temperatures. Most plant oils are oxidized by heat, thus creating free radicals that can attack our cell membranes and lead to cancerous changes; when cooking, therefore, it’s best to use stable fats like ghee and coconut oil.
Fruity Breakfast Lentils recipe (Serves 4)
2 tbsp coconut oil
1 large onion, coarsely chopped
3 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 tbsp freshly grated ginger
2 tsp curry powder
1 tsp turmeric powder
a pinch of chili powder (if using)
2 cups red lentils
1 organic apple, cubed (skin left on)
2 tomatoes, cubed
4 cups water
the juice of ½ lime
1 large, red onion
1 tbsp ghee (clarified butter) or coconut oil
1-2 tbsp fresh cilantro leaves, chopped or whole (for garnish)
black sesame seeds for garnish
a few thin slices of lime for garnish
In a medium pot with a heavy bottom, melt the coconut oil and cook the onion and garlic until translucent (about 5 minutes), stirring regularly. Add grated ginger, curry, turmeric and chili and continue cooking for 1 minute, stirring constantly so the spices don’t burn.
Add lentils, apple and tomato cubes and combine well; cook for 1-2 minutes, stirring. Now add water, stir again and bring to a boil. As soon as the mixture is bubbling, lower heat to lowest setting, cover and simmer for about 30 minutes, or until the lentils turn into a soft mush. Stir occasionally to break down the apples and tomatoes; this releases their juices and moistens the lentil mixture, thus preventing it from burning.
While the lentils are cooking, melt the ghee in a small frying pan on moderate heat and cook the sliced red onion. Salt it lightly to draw out its juices, cover and stir every 5-10 minutes, adding a little water if the onion slices get too crisp or start to stick to the pan. Cook onion for 15-20 minutes until it is soft and melting. Set aside and keep warm.
Once the lentils and fruits are soft, remove from heat and season to taste with salt, pepper and lime juice, cover and set aside. (If you want the dish to be more filling, stir in another tablespoon of coconut oil or ghee at this point.)
Serve with a small portion of steamed basmati rice, slather with caramelized onions, top with a slice of lime, sprinkle with black sesame seeds and chopped cilantro and serve immediately.