Sunday, February 23, 2014

Lentil and Tomato Curry

My junior year of college, I experienced lentils for the first time. I met a few friends for Indian food at a restaurant that I assume is now closed or has very poor search engine optimization. 

I remember walking through a strangely desolate parking lot into a dizzying array of gaudy decorations: gold elephants, red velvet curtains, fake mahogany pillars and Hindu Gods and Goddesses inexplicably situated next to Indian pop culture artifacts.  While Bollywood blasted and flashed on a huge screen situated in the waiting area, a pungent cloak of turmeric, coriander, and other unidentified spices enveloped me.

This is why I rarely travel, friends.  I was overwhelmed by a cultural experience at an Indian restaurant in Greenville, South Carolina.   You know that you were raised on suburban Protestant white bread when you experience culture shock upon entering a restaurant on American soil, but I digress.

In spite of my shock, the food was glorious and I ate dal or lentils for the first time.  I wanted to recreate the dish as soon as I got home, but I forgot the name of the food I had ordered (those one syllable dishes get me every time).  After an evening of unsuccessful searching with increasingly obscure and esoteric descriptions of this dish of dreams, I concluded that whatever I ate was not a food that mere mortals might make in their home kitchens.

Fast forward a few years, a co-worker from India came to Minneapolis and as is the tradition, we went to Bombay Bistro, an Indian Buffet.  Sitting next to her,  I pointed to the dal, and I said, “This is the best food in the whole universe.”  

Unsure of how to respond to my tendency toward hyperbole she dismissed me, “Bombay Bistro is the best food in the universe? I don’t think so.”

“No, dal is the best food in the whole world.  I wish I could make it at home,” I insisted

“Maybe you should Google a recipe; lentils are very easy to cook,” she said.

And my eyes were opened, a light came down from heaven.  How had I never connected that lentils and dal were the same food?  Why had I never Googled dal once I did learn the name?  A few months and a few recipes later, lentil curry is a household staple. 

This is one of my favorite recipes.  My version is inspired by this Spicy Red Lentil & Tomato Curry from Dramatic Pancake.  I’m sure that hers is better but I’ve never had the patience to follow the recipe from beginning to end, so here’s my version.

Red Lentil and Tomato Curry

3C Stock (Vegetable or Chicken bonus points for homemade)
1.5T Red Curry Powder
1T Cumin
1T Coriander
1t Cinnamon
½ t Nutmeg
1/2t Paprika
1t Salt
1-2t Red Pepper Flakes

3T Butter
3 Medium Carrots
4 Cloves Garlic
1 Large Onion
2T.Fresh grated ginger
3 Fresh tomatoes diced or one can diced tomatoes
1C Dry rinsed Lentils

Bring stock  to a low boil then add all the spices (Do this before you start chopping vegetables, and if you are really fast at chopping vegetables take a little break right now)

Peel and dice carrots and onion and set aside.  Mince garlic and grate ginger.

Heat butter and add ginger and garlic until it smells like you are an amazing cook and the garlic is a little brown; add carrots and onion and cook over low heat until onions are translucent.

Chop tomatoes (or open can) and add to vegetable mixture, let vegetables cook for at least ten more minutes.

In the meantime, rinse lentils and pick out the small stones. I don't bother soaking lentils, but if you're about that then you should have done that before step one, sorry.

Add vegetables and lentils to stock, cook over low heat until lentils are mushy and have absorbed all the stock (about 35 minutes)

Serve with basmati rice and cilantro.

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