Javanese Lentils

Javanese Lentils

Javanese Lentils with a fried onion garnish

This dish is another great take on a simple lentil stew, this time with an Indonesian spin. It’s amazing how many ways you can cook lentils and come out with totally different and delicious results every time.

I’ve adapted the recipe from a much more complicated one for Mee Java (or Javanese noodles), from Madhur Jaffrey’s World Vegetarian cookbook. The original recipe calls for this stew to be served as a kind of sauce over seasoned noodles, with about five separate garnishes (each of which has to be prepared separately). I’ve made this dish according to the original instructions several times, but I eventually decided to dispense with most of the minor details of the recipe, because the lentil sauce/stew part is most of what makes it good. However, I decided to keep one garnish – caramelized onions, fried until crispy – because it adds a wonderful sweetness to the dish, but this part is entirely optional.

The original recipe calls for split pigeon peas (sold as toor or toovar dal in Indian markets), but basically any skin-less lentil will do. I usually make this dish with red lentils or yellow split peas. I’ve also substituted onions for shallots here, just because of the huge price difference between the two. Ground asafoetida is common in Indian and Southeast Asian dishes, but might be hard to find outside of Indian and Asian markets, food co-ops, and specialty stores.

I like to serve this stew over brown rice, but it can also be served over basically any type of noodle as well.


Javanese Lentils (adapted from Madhur Jaffrey’s World Vegetarian cookbook)

1 lb. or about 2 1/4 cups red lentils, pigeon peas, or yellow split peas
6 Tbsp. vegetable or coconut oil (coconut oil adds a LOT here – buy on Amazon to avoid paying through the nose at a health foods store)
3/4 tsp. ground asafoetida
2 tsp. whole mustard seeds
1 large onion, cut in half and finely sliced (for optional fried onion garnish)
1 medium onion, chopped
2-4 green serrano chiles, seeded and chopped
4 tsp. curry powder of your choice
1 28 oz. can diced tomatoes OR 2 1/2 lbs. fresh tomatoes, if in season, chopped
1/2 bunch cilantro (leaves and stems), minced
~2 tsp. salt, or to taste
2 Tbsp. lemon juice, or to taste
Rice or noodles for serving

First, get the lentils cooking: Wash well to reduce foaming, and cover with six cups of water in a large pot. Bring to a boil, skim off the foam that floats to the top, and cook until mushy and beginning to break down – about 20- 25 minutes for red lentils, longer for pigeon peas and split peas. Continue to cook if you would like the stew to have a smoother texture.

Then, get the fried onion garnish going (optional): Heat 4 Tbsp. of the oil in a large frying pan over medium to medium-high heat. When hot, add the finely sliced onion, and cook, stirring occasionally, until onion pieces are reddish-brown. Turn off the heat just as they are starting to become crispy, or they may burn. (It’s important that onions be sliced with a consistent thickness for this step, or the thinner ones will burn before the thicker ones have caramelized.) Set aside when done.

While the lentils and onions are cooking, prepare the rest of the lentil dish: Heat the remaining 2 Tbsp. oil in a large frying pan or sauté pan over medium to medium-high heat (but not too high, or the mustard seeds will burn). When hot, put in asafoetida and mustard seeds, stir, and cook for about 15 seconds. Add the medium chopped onion and chopped chiles, stir, and cook for about five minutes. Add the curry powder, stir, and cook for anonther minute. Add the tomatoes, cilantro, salt, and 1 1/2 cup of water, bring to a boil, and simmer for 8 minutes. Add this whole mixture to the lentils (whether they are done cooking or not), along with the cilantro and lemon juice, and cook uncovered for at least 15 minutes, or until the lentils have reached the desired consistency. Add more water if the lentils become too dry and start to stick.

Adjust lentils for salt. Serve over rice or noodles, with fried onions as a garnish.


Cost of core ingredients: All primarily organic and purchased at my food co-op.

1 lb. red lentils @ $2.29/lb. = $2.29
1 large onion: ~$1.20
1 medium onion: ~$0.90
3 serrano chiles: $0.48
1 28 oz. can diced tomatoes: $2.49
1/2 bunch cilantro: $1
1 lemon: $1.06
1 lb. brown rice for serving @ $2.29/lb. = ~$2.29

Total for six servings: $11.71, plus the cost of small amounts of oil, asafoetida, mustard seeds, curry powder, and salt.

Bon Appétit!


1 Comment

4 February 2012 · 4:35 pm

One response to “Javanese Lentils

  1. Wade

    Just made this today and it turned out wonderfully! I slightly altered, as before: used sriracha sauce instead of chilies; ground coriander & dried leaves instead of fresh; no mustard seeds; and, I served it over a mix of brown rice and quinoa. Delicious!

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