I’m making a 3 course bento box style Indian dinner. The star of this meal is Crimson lentil soup, it’s also called red lentils (masoor dhal) because of its signature orangey red color, it cooks so quickly and tastes so good. This is such a hearty dish which keeps you satisfied and energized anytime of the day. Let me show you how easy it is to put together this perfect meal in a matter of minutes.
Once in awhile to break the monotonous routine we eat dinner watching tv or a movie, It’s a Friday night ritual in my household. Instead of eating at the table I make this bento box style dinner which has a variety of tasty dishes like soup, crackers, flatbread, rice, salad and a dessert all in one plate. It eliminates the hassle of walking back and forth to the dinning table and the living room to serve food. It is really fun to eat this way.
Bento Box Dinner – Indian Dinner Thali
- Crimson lentils/ masoor dhal – 1 cup
- Turmeric powder – 1 teaspoon
- Red chili powder – 2 teaspoon
- Gram masala powder – 1 teaspoon
- Cumin seeds – 1 teaspoon
- Tomatoes – 2 chopped
- Shallots – 5 or 1/2 onion ( finely diced)
- Green chili – 2 (optional)
- Ginger – small piece (grated)
- Garlic cloves – 2 (grated)
- Salt 2 teaspoons
- Oil and butter for sautéing
- Methi leaves (oregano) – just a pinch (optional)
- Cilantro (coriander leaves) for garnish.
I make a paste with the green chili, garlic and ginger.
You can leave out the green chilies if you don’t want your soup/ dhal to be spicy. Just grate the ginger and garlic to make the process easy.
I love the flavor of the shallots, it is a cross between onion and garlic which gives a unique taste to this dish. If you don’t have shallots you can use regular onion.
Wash and cook the red lentils in 4 cups of water. Do not add salt while its cooking.
I always follow this ratio 1 cup lentils : 4 cups water when I cook lentils. It gives the right consistency to your soup/dhal. Keep in mind cooked lentils thicken as it sits.
If you think your soup is thick and you want to add water later on, always add hot water. Adding cold water completely changes the taste of the soup.
Whenever we cook lentils we add turmeric powder and a pinch of asafetida which gives a wonderful color and flavor. But it’s optional.
Red lentils doesn’t keep the red color after it’s cooked, if you really want to preserve the red color then add a teaspoon of paprika (Kashmiri red chili powder).
- Heat oil and little bit of butter in a pan, add the cumin seeds
- once it’s toasted add the diced shallots and sauté it until it slightly changes color.
- Add the chopped tomatoes and sauté it until it’s mushy
- Now add the paste or (grated ginger and garlic) chili powder and Garam masala and mix it well.
- Add a cup of water and salt, let it come to a boil.
- Add the cooked lentils and let it simmer for sometime
- Once the soup thickens up to the right consistency garnish it with dried methi leaves.
- You can also use dried oregano leaves since the aroma is very similar to methi leaves This gives a unique taste to this soup.
- Just before serving garnish it with cilantro.
We love to dunk the flatbreads in our soup.
To make my life easy I bought the ready made Indian flatbread (roti) and toasted it with some ghee to enhance its taste. You can also use butter with your choice of faltbread.
It’s Friyay guys nobody wants to toil in front of the stove!
We serve a small bowl of salad to go with this meal, it is a very simple 4 ingredients salad.
It could be made with cucumbers, carrots, cabbage, lettuce or chickpeas. I made mine with onions.
It is flavored with chaat masala (salad spice mix) a tiny squeeze of lemon and a sprinkle of finely chopped cilantro. Mix it well and let it sit for sometime for the flavors to meld. How easy is that?
I would really recommend you to buy this salad spice mix, it acts like a vinaigrette without any added oil. It tastes so good!
Combo # 1 – Red lentil soup/ dhal, ghee roti and onion salad.
Soup can also be paired with hot steamy rice which makes it really hearty. So I made fennel flavored rice. Let me quickly tell you how to make it.
- wash and drain 1 cup of basmati rice or any rice of your choice except sticky rice.
- Heat oil and butter, add the fennel seeds slightly toast it, add the rice and toast it until it gets pearl white
- add 2 cups of water and 2 teaspoons of salt and mix it well, put the lid on and cook it in a medium flame.
- Once it’s cooked fluff it with a fork.
- Keep it warm until you serve it.
I love the smell of fennel so I have made this a fennel rice, you can also substitute it with cumin seeds and call it cumin rice (jeera rice) it tastes great too.
If you are not a big fan of rice you can also use quinoa or bulgar (cracked wheat), Tastes delicious if prepared the same way.
I also fried up some fun, colorful crackers to go with the soup. These 3 make a really good combo.
Combo # 2 – Fennel rice, crackers and soup.
Last but not least…
This is a South Indian tradition, we always end our meals with a tiny scoop of yogurt rice to cool our tongue and sooth our tummy after eating a hot spicy meal. It is always served with some kind of pickle, it could be mango, lime, veggie etc, the choice is yours. These pickles are readily available in any Indian grocery stores.
Let me show you how to make it,
Take a bowl of cooked slightly warm or room temperature rice, left over rice is good too.
Add a tiny bit of salt, mix it well and slightly mash the rice with a fork. Now add couple of scoops of plain yogurt and combine it nicely.
Before you add yogurt make sure the yogurt it not too sour. If it is sour there is a way to fix it, just add 2 tablespoons of warm milk with it, this actually makes it taste very pleasant.
Now we have to season this.
Take 1 green chili, cut the tip and squeeze all the seeds out and finely cut into tiny rings.
In a small pan heat oil add 1/4 teaspoon of black mustard seeds, once it pops add finely chopped curry leaves. Take it out of the heat then add the chopped green chilli to the oil. This slightly cooks it and gets the raw smell out.
Now pour the mix to the prepared yogurt rice mix it well and garnish it with finely chopped cilantro.
It just tastes delicious with pickles. I call this AMIRTHAM (food for the soul)
If you are not familiar with yogurt rice you can substitute it with a small bowl of chilled pudding, flavored yogurt or fruit salad.
Combo # 3 – Yogurt rice and mango pickle
Now let’s assemble the tray. I took a big plate lined up the flat bread in the middle and placed the sides in small bowls in a strategic way so that you could enjoy three totally different meals all in one plate. Amazing! right?
There is nothing more satisfying than serving a delicious, wholesome meal for your family. The best part is, you gave them a full course dinner with very less effort that is definitely a cherry on top! Now plop yourself on the couch put the tray on the coffee table pour yourself a glass of cool water and enjoy the meal, movie and the quality time with your family. Does it get any better than this ? 😀