Monday, February 15, 2010

Cooking on the cheap--a vegetarian curry with a little kick

Occasionally, health concerns drive my menu choices, but have no fear.  I'm not going to lecture anyone about the food pyramid or their food intake. It's not my place to judge here. My place is to talk about deliciousness and the fun in perfecting a recipe. If it happens to be good for you, all the better.

Anyway, with all the literature out there about healthy food choices, I feel pretty comfortable saying that adding more beans like lentils to one's diet is, barring allergies or sensitivities, generally a good thing. Lentils are high in protein and fiber, low in sugar and fat, and cooked well, they are delicious. They're also filling and cheap, which in this economy can only be a good thing.

I had some lentils in the cupboard, I'd bought them for a middle-eastern lemony lentil and rice dish that I didn't consider a complete success. One of my favorite Indian dishes at restaurants is dal, a black lentil dish. I didn't find that, but I did find Madras Lentil Curry. We know from earlier posts that recipes that actually call for curry powder are not terribly authentic. Keep reading to see what I did with it. It's a subtle, but powerful change.

2 tablespoons olive oil My current brand is Trader Joe's Sicilian
4 garlic cloves, minced I used six. I love garlic and I want to be able to taste it.
2 tablespoons minced peeled fresh ginger  I am getting really good at cutting up ginger. I tend to slice the peel off in pretty big chunks until I have a parallelogram to work with.
1 red bell pepper, cut into 1/2-inch pieces I like that this recipe used red and not green. Green peppers can sometimes take over a dish if they're not used correctly
1 small cauliflower (2 pounds) cut into florets Two pounds? I thought this might be the overwhelming taste, but it turned out to be a lovely mix.
3/4 pound all-purpose potatoes, peeled and cut into 1/2-inch chunks Notice all the different textures we have here, with the pepper, potatoes and cauliflower as well as the lentils below; I knew it would be an interesting dish.
2 tablespoons curry powder, preferably Madras I did have Madras on hand, and it is a little hotter than standard curry powder.
1 teaspoon ground cumin this is another spice no cupboard should be without. How else are you going to make chili?
1 teaspoon ground coriander Not cheap, but multi-useful
2 1/2 cups canned tomatoes, chopped, with their juice 
3/4 teaspoon salt 
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper 
1 cup frozen peas, thawed 
1/2 cup plain low-fat yogurt, for serving (optional) we ended up not using this; no one thought it was necessary. 
1 cup lentils, picked over and rinsed 

As you can see from the ingredient list, the lentils really aren't the star of the show, despite being in the headline. This is really an ensemble cast of a dish, and everything worked pretty well together.

1. In 5-quart Dutch oven or large saucepan with lid, heat oil over low heat. Add garlic and ginger and cook, stirring frequently, 1 minute or until garlic is tender. Stir in bell pepper and cook, stirring frequently 5 minutes or until tender.
2. Stir in cauliflower, potatoes, lentils, curry powder, cumin, coriander, and cook 2 minutes or until well coated.
3. Add tomatoes, salt, black pepper, and 1 3/4 cups water and bring to a boil. Reduce to a simmer and cover. Cook 30 minutes, or until lentils are cooked through and vegetables are tender. (I gave it an extra few minutes to make sure the lentils were cooked, it turned out to be unnecessary)
4. Stir in peas and cook 1 minute, or until heated through. Divide curry evenly among plates and top each serving with yogurt if desired.

I've got to hand it to the folks at Redbook, the instructions were easy to follow, and the timing was right. But right before serving, I tasted it and was a little disappointed. No zip, no zing, no warming burn from the curry. I stirred in 2 T garam masala and let it cook five minutes more. This is what it needed.

  I served this with rice and tandoori chicken, all of which were gobbled up by my sweetie and our landlord/housemate. The following day for lunch, we had the leftovers without rice, and no one felt the need for supporting carbohydrates. I considered it a success.

Garam masala isn't usually found in your local grocery store. I have seen it at Whole Foods, and I'm lucky enough to live within an hour's drive of a Penzey's Spices. Penzey's does do mail order. Or for some fun, you can also make it yourself, which is what I did--I needed it for the above-mentioned tandoori chicken. I'll be talking about that in a future blog entry.

Next week: the Superbowl Mac & Cheese dinner

Questions? Comments? Critiques? Have a recipe you want deconstructed? Let's hear it!


  1. sounds pretty good. you're right, it's not a "dal" per se, as the lentils aren't the primary ingredient; it sounds closer to a sambar.

    also, if you can find an indian grocery near you, they should have cheaper coriander powder; it's one the most used spices in indian cooking.

  2. oh, and if you specifically hunting for black lentil recipes, the hindi name for them is "urad dal"

  3. OH, that sounds *wonderful*! I'll have to try it sometime.