Potatoes with Tart Lentils, Winter Greens and Controversy

Recipe: Potatoes with Tart Lentils and Winter Greens

My dog Max has a passionate love for seafood; salmon, trout, shrimp, lobster, and especially tuna.  The only time he indulges in countertop surfing is when we have fish on the menu. He once jumped into the back of fisherman’s truck parked on the street. When my cousin Mark made sushi in our kitchen a few years ago, Max was never far from his side.

I’m like that about Indian potato dishes; K.M.’s  black pepper potatoes, and the aloo dom (pressure cooked potatoes in yogurt sauce) I had in Darjeeling more than 10 years ago, and still dream of. The first time I made a successful aloo gobi (check out the video from Bend it Like Beckham), I felt like I had finally achieved novice status in Indian cooking.

When I do emergency recall drills with Max, his reward is half a can of tuna. As you can imagine, he always comes when called, just in case I’m packing fish.

I think I’ve finally come up with a reward that might have that same effect on me – make it worth my while to clean the house, or do our taxes: Potatoes with Tart Lentils and Winter Greens.  Think I’m exaggerating? I ate the last of the leftovers for breakfast this morning – instead of a mini-dark chocolate tart.

This is a two-recipe dish to make. First you make the tart lentils and then the potatoes and greens. It’s a lovely side dish, but served over rice or with flatbread, it makes a meal on all on its own.  This recipe calls for two special ingredients; panch phoron (Bengali five spice mix) and – here’s the controversy part: mustard oil.

Just about the only place you can buy mustard oil is in an Indian grocery store and every bottle is labeled for external use only. Because of studies done years ago and the levels of erucic acid in mustard oil, the FDA does not approve culinary uses of mustard oil. And I don’t think anyone makes it organically, so the mustard oil I use may well be genetically modified and the practices used to cultivate mustard crops are probably not green at all.

I have mixed feelings about all this. But I use it anyway, in small quantities, when I make certain Indian dishes. I love the flavor and the aroma. And there is always that voice the back of my head saying, the FDA didn’t have a problem with trans-fats or breast implants, mustard just lacks lobbyists. Some researchers think that mustard oil might actually be good for you. As Walter Willett said to the New York Times last year, “The reality is that we are not really sure {that mustard oil represents a threat to human health}.”

I have to admit, deciding what cooking oils are good for me and good for the environment is something I still struggle with on a daily basis. It’s an area of nutrition research that has been turned topsy-turvy in my lifetime and still changes frequently. So I am especially grateful when someone takes on the topic, like Winnie Abramson at Healthy Green Kitchen, or just this week, Andrew Wilder at Eating Rules. I love the colorful oil comparison chart from Eating Rules so much that I taped it up on my refrigerator for reference – even though it doesn’t mention mustard oil.

Don’t let worries over mustard oil stop you from trying my Potatoes with Tart Lentils and Winter Greens. Just use a high quality peanut oil if you are more comfortable with that. You might just end up eating them for breakfast too!


2 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by Bipasha on February 15, 2012 at 3:32 pm

    Fabulous post! Reminds me of “chorchori” that my dida used to make. If you like Indian potato dishes, have you tried the simple non nonsense alu bhaate? That’s boiled potato (Yukon gold will work) smashed with mustard oil, salt, minced red onions and optional green chillies. This is perhaps the only food I cannot imagine without mustard oil!


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