Monday, August 06, 2007

Curried Lentils

I have been fiddling with curried lentils for a while now. Lentils and rice is an ideal dish for so many reasons: it's cheap (really cheap), it's healthy, it's meatless, and it makes great leftovers. Unfortunately, I haven't found a recipe anywhere that imparts a satisfactory flavor. If food doesn't taste good, it's not worth eating, I say. Instead of giving up on curried lentils, though, I kept messing around until I hit on something really good, and now that I've made this dish successfully more than once, I figure it's worth sharing with the world at large, for those who care. In fact, I made this a few weeks ago for a friend who came over for dinner, and she asked for the recipe; I took that as a good sign.

I've learned a few things about curries from reading Indian cookbooks and old-fashioned experience, and I've learned a few things:

1. Don't overdo the spices, either by using too many different ones, or too much of one kind. They will overwhelm the palette. OMG, did I just use the word "palette"? Yes, yes I did.

2. Don't be afraid of oil. Vegetable oils aren't high in saturated fat, and some, like olive oil, have stuff in there that's good for you. Low-fat diets will get you nowhere anyway.

3. Do not add tomatoes or salt to any dish containing lentils or beans until the very end. There's some kind of enzyme that will prevent the lentils/beans from cooking all the way through and they will be crunchy. I had to learn this the hard way...several times.

4. Toppings and curry mix well. I've listed several in the recipe below.

(I don't know if this is authentic to any particular culture...I just think it's good.)

1 large onion, chopped
4 T. vegetable oil or ghee
2 tsp. chopped garlic
3/4 tsp. each cumin, coriander and cayenne (You can use more cayenne if you like it really hot)
1/2 tsp. turmeric
2 cups dry green lentils, washed and picked over
2 tsp. broth concentrate (I like Better Than Bullion Vegetable broth) or 2 bullion cubes of your choosing (I would use veggie or beef)
1/2 tsp. freshly ground cardamom seed
1 cup chopped potato

1. Heat the oil in a large sauce pan, and sauté the onion until soft, 5-7 minutes.
2. Add the garlic and spices and toast them, stirring constantly, for 30 seconds.
3. Add the lentils plus 4 cups of water. Bring to a boil, then turn heat down and let simmer until the lentils are just a little bit crunchy. Check them every 5-10 minutes and add water if necessary. (I always add the water gradually because I never know quite how much water is needed, and I hate watery lentils.)
4. When the lentils are not quite done, add the chopped potato, plus more water if necessary.
5. When the potatoes are cooked through, add the broth concentrate or bullion cubes, plus salt to taste. Sprinkle with the ground cardamom (you can leave this out if you don't like it peppery.)

This is a large recipe. It keeps well for leftovers for a couple days, and is usually better on day two, so if you think ahead enough (and I rarely do), you can make it several hours ahead of time or the night before and just heat it up when you're ready to eat.

Serve with rice of your choosing (I like steamed basmati, myself) and any or all of the following toppings:

Dry roasted peanuts
Chopped fresh tomato (if this isn't available and you really like tomato, add a can of diced tomatoes to the lentils when they're done cooking along with the broth and salt)
Plain yogurt
Shredded coconut
Chopped banana
Boiled eggs, chopped