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Another ugly, but delicious dinner

28.January 2010

Before we start, Happy Birthday to my dear mother! Go read her brand-new baby blog!

I got this great present for Christmas – my mom and I both have copies of 660 Curries and I was lamenting just before the holidays that I wanted to cook more things from it, but I never have the right spices on hand (or enough cash in hand to stock up). So my parents made a list of all the spices I could need, went to Penzey’s and stocked up for me. It was a truly inspired gift.

Anyway, this gift was given to me on condition that I start cooking more of the curries, so over the last month, Dan and I have been cooking our way through the book, trying at least five new curries since we got back early this month. All the recipes have been delicious (with one notable exception, where I somehow went awry with the salt, but we won’t get into that), but the most interesting thing has been getting more familiar with the taste of all the spices and how they fit together.

Last night we found ourselves in a bare-cupboard situation and I decided to make our traditional bare-cupboard dinner of lentil stew. We did, luckily, have beautiful vegetables that arrived in our Boston Organics box yesterday, so I threw in a few of them and let myself be sort of inspired by a recipe in the Curry Book. I didn’t follow the recipe completely, as I didn’t think to consult a recipe until after I started the lentils.

The result was a very delicious spicy, curry-y lentil stew which stood on its own and satisfied both of our very hungry stomachs with aplomb.

So far, I’ve used prepared spice mixes for most of the curries (I have three different garam masalas that I’ve been using), but I think this weekend I’ll be spending some time making my own ginger paste, grinding up some of my own spice mixes, and maybe even making some spiced tomato sauce, so that I can actually sample the precise flavor profile of some of these recipes. I used to be so intimidated by cooking curry, but this book makes it totally manageable. If you’re at all remotely inclined to cook curry, buy this book.

Spicy Indian/American Lentil Stew
Inspired by Five-Lentil Stew with cumin and cayenne – Panchmela Dal in 660 Curries by Raghavan IyerI call it Indian/American because I started off with the onion/carrot/celery combination that I would use to start any old American soup or stew, but ended with an Indian-inspired spice profile. I say spicy because I added cayenne twice. I’m not sure that was necessary. Feel free to dial it back to 1/8 t both times or just 1/4 t in the butter sauce at the end.

For the lentils

  • 1 small red onion, chopped finely
  • 1 stalk celery, chopped finely
  • 2 carrots, peeled and cut into 3/4 inch chunks
  • about a cup of dried lentils
  • 4 cups chicken broth
  • 1/2 t ground turmeric
  • 1 t grated fresh ginger
  • 1/4 t cayenne pepper
  • salt to taste
  • 4 fingerling (or 1 large) potatoes (I used purple ones!)

For the baghaar*

  • 2 T butter (ghee if you have it)
  • 2 dried bay leaves
  • 1 t garam masala (I used the garam masala I bought at Christina‘s)
  • 1 t cumin seeds
  • 1/4 t cayenne pepper
  1. Heatsome olive oil in a Dutch oven. When it’s shimmering, add the onion, celery, and carrots. Saute until vegetables soften.
  2. Add the lentils (washed and picked over) and broth to the vegetables and bring to a boil.
  3. Stir in a little salt, the turmeric, ginger and cayenne.
  4. Reduce heat, cover and let simmer for about 30 minutes.
  5. When the liquid is mostly absorbed and the lentils are mostly softened, start the baghaar.
  6. Melt 2 T butter (or ghee) in a small skillet.
  7. Add cumin seeds, bay leaves, garam masala, and cayenne pepper.
  8. Reduce heat to medium and stir while the spices sizzle. When the cumin seeds turn dark reddish brown and start to smell toasty, remove from the heat. (Be very careful – it is EASY to burn the spices, which causes an unholy stink. Trust me.)
  9. Stir this mixture into lentils, add salt to taste and serve.

*my Curry Book tells me this is what it’s called when you sizzle spices in ghee (butter in my case) to add to the dish at the last minute.

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