Recipe du Jour: Red Lentil Curry

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In the past year, I discovered a love of Indian food. I’m not an expert at all; I can’t tell you the names of everything I like, let alone what part of India the recipe originally comes from. But the warm spices, a bit of heat, served with rice and naan strikes me as comfort food, even though I didn’t grow up with it. It all started when I got a Groupon to try a local Indian restaurant. We loved it, especially since it’s just around the corner from us. A friend recommended a buffet-style place, which was also delicious. (You know it’s pretty good when all the Indian graduate students eat there.)

However, it’s expensive to eat out all the time, even when it’s good food. So I’ve been collecting recipes, hoping that we can make something at home that comes close to the food at the restaurant. This is the first. I should note that we are fortunate to live in a college town, so we have more options for acquiring international ingredients. We also have access to a spice bar, so getting good spices is not a problem either.

Despite that, we did have a hard time with some of these ingredients, as they are not as straightforward as they might appear at first. For one, curry powder is just a mix of spices. Every possible spice mix they use in Indian food could be considered “curry powder”. You can search the ‘net for a recipe that features the spices you like. We are still trying to use up a generic one from the super market, but after that I’d like to experiment with various combinations.

Similarly, curry paste comes in many varieties as well. Most common is Thai curry paste. We really wanted to try to make this like an Indian curry, so we searched specifically for Indian curry paste. We actually ended up not finding any, and so I just added more curry powder. Again, I’m sure there are many recipes on the ‘net on how to make your own, and I may do that in the future, if it can freeze well.

This whole search for ingredients has prompted me to start adding Indian cookbooks to my reading list so that I can truly understand how everything works. I feel it’s somewhat offensive to love a type of food and yet not know anything about it. Like not knowing that salsa comes in many varieties in Mexican cooking, for example.

In a worst case scenario, you can just get a jar of a simmer sauce like these. We did get a jar to try, but I really want to learn to make my own.

For the original recipe, click here.  Keep an eye on how many servings the recipe you’re making has.  My version below supposedly serves 4.

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup red lentils
  • 1/2 onion, diced
  • 1-2 tbsp coconut oil
  • 1 tbsp curry powder (because I couldn’t find curry paste)
  • 1/2 tsp ground turmeric
  • 1/2 tsp ground cumin
  • 1/2 tsp chili powder (I used Ancho.  I may try a different type next time.)
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp sugar
  • 1/2 tsp mince garlic (about one clove)
  • 1/2 tsp ginger root, minced (about a 1-inch piece)
  • 1 cup tomato puree

Directions:

Wash the lentils in cold water until the water runs clear (this is very important or the lentils will get “scummy”), put the lentils in a pot with water to cover and simmer covered until lentils tender (add more water if necessary).  You may need to stir to make sure they are cooking evenly.

In a large skillet or saucepan, start caramelizing the onions in the coconut oil over low heat.  Do not let get brown!  While they are cooking, combine all the spices in a separate mixing bowl.  When the onions are cooked, add the curry mixture and cook over high heat for 1-2 minutes, stirring constantly.  Stir in the tomato puree and simmer over a low heat until the lentils are done.

When the lentils are done, drain the remaining water from them and add to the curry mixture.  Serve with rice or naan.

Notes: This is exactly what I was looking for: warm spices, hearty filling fare, and vegetarian. Andrew really liked it. Mine turned out a little dry, probably because I completely drained the lentils. You might want to keep some of the cooking water from the lentils to help make the dish more sauce-y or perhaps use more tomato puree, as my dry version was hard to eat with rice.

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