When I recommitted to vegetarian eating this year, I wondered, like anyone who won't be eating animal protein anymore, how I would get enough in my diet. Of course, after years of combining proteins following the Frances Moore Lappe methods, and raising my family on the recipes, I had a leg up on understanding that if you eat "complementary proteins", that is, foods with different combinations of amino acids together, you can get proteins that are as complete as if you eat a meat or fish-based diet.
Recently I read "The Vegetarian Starter Kit" from Vegetarian Times magazine that makes a pretty good case for a vegetarian diet being more healthy than a non-veg one. I learned that you may actually be getting more calcium in a vegetarian diet, something I worried about for awhile when I had to cut out dairy products.
They have good rice here in Japan. It's in most cases much fresher than that you'll find in supermarkets in North America. Japanese people demand it. They know their rice. And here in the countryside many of the families are growing their own.
But rice alone doesn't make a meal. In the cooler months especially, my thoughts turn to Indian curries and dals. Dahl or dal is a stew of simmered lentils or split peas, often spiced up with a bit of red pepper, garlic, cumin, and other flavours that make it positively addictive when you serve it with rice. Of course in India they serve it with curry and other side dishes as part of the meal, but I've found it makes a perfect accompaniment to rice or Indian breads as a breakfast or lunch. If you want to eat it with rice you add a bit more water, to make a soup or sauce, and for bread dipping you simply add a bit less. The final consistency is all in the amount of water and cooking time you choose.
There are many good recipes for dal, some of them online, but here is my adaptation of one I really like from Madhur Jaffrey's Indian Cookery. I've made this many times and it's as good each time as the first time I tasted it. Fragrant with ginger and cumin, garlicky and with just a kiss of heat, serve it with any Indian bread or rice and prepare to be smitten.
Dahl-ling! (About 4 servings)
1 cup Chana or other dal * (yellow split lentils)
a few good shakes ground turmeric (1/2 tsp)
2 thin slices unpeeled fresh ginger
4 cups water
1 & 1/2 to 3 Tb vegetable oil ( I use Anew organic)
1 tsp whole cumin seeds
2 cloves garlic, peeled and chopped
1 small onion chopped
1/2 tsp red chili powder
1 tsp. salt
small shake of garam masala (1 tsp)
Put the first four ingredients in a large pot with a lid. Bring to a boil and reduce the heat to low and cover, leaving the lid slightly ajar. Cook until tender and soft, to your taste.
Heat the vegetable oil in a frying pan over medium heat and add the cumin seeds. Toast for a few seconds and add the chopped garlic and onions. Fry until lightly browned. Add the ground red pepper and stir it in. Take the pan off the heat and pour the mixture into the pot of cooked lentils. Add the salt and garam masala. Remove the sliced ginger if you like.
Serve over rice or for dipping with breads.
*North Americans could use yellow "split peas". I used chana dal in this recipe.