Curry has always scared me. I was always just a bit terrified of it... all those spices, all that effort, and for what? Some gloppy-ish thing served over rice like you find at the chippy? Even if one could cope with the mile-long ingredient lists, why would they bother? I decided that it was time to try - I very well couldn't continue to live here in England without figuring out how to tame the curry beast like the rest of the population.
Still, I wanted a recipe that didn't call for 18 different spices. I try to keep my cooking more simple than that. Then I found this one, courtesy of TimesOnline. A few additions and substitutions (as is my usual style), and I had all the ingredients. My time had finally come.
Halfway through cooking the lentils, I was worried. Worried, worried. The broth tasted like... spicy sand. It was weirdly gritty, or rather, DUSTY, like chalkdust on the day you clean the erasers. But I stuck to my guns, and followed the recipe. Would the Times lead me astray?
I cannot believe I had any doubts, because this turned out to be one of the best things I have ever made. I felt warmed, healthy, smart, not over-full... quite perfect, really. So even if curry scares you, like it scared me up until the moment I took a bite - never fear. It is so worth it.
*The Times calls for split yellow mung lentils, of which I have never been a fan - so I used my always-on-hand french green lentils, which are smaller, not-split, and have a firmer texture (they kind of *pop* when you bite them). So I swapped half of them for some bulgur wheat to mimick the consistency of yellow lentils and add a whole grain to the already-healthy dish. I made other minor adjustments as my pantry would allow, and added a dollop of greek yoghurt and shallots for garnish. Do NOT skip the yoghurt... it beautifully cuts through and compliments the flavours of the curry, and makes it a perfect toast-topper.
**Also, the Times created this dish more soupy than I wanted it, so I adjusted the water content accordingly, paying close attention to add just the right amount as I went along. I imagine, though, that this would make a delicious soup, and I'd like to try it that way at some point, also with a little swirl of yoghurt or crème fraîche.
Spinach & Lentil Curry
- ~1/2 cup french green lentils
- ~1/2 cup bulgur wheat
- 1/2 tea ground ginger
- 2 tea harissa paste (or chilli of your choice)
- 3/4 tsp turmeric powder
- ~3 tbsp tomato paste or puree'd tomatoes
- 200g baby spinach leaves, stems removed, roughly chopped.
- sea salt to taste (don't skimp - since there's no salty broth, you'll need it.)
- 1 1/2 tbsp butter
- 1/2 tsp ground cumin
- 2 cloves garlic (~2 tea garlic paste)
- 3/4 tsp coriander powder
- 1/2 tsp garam masala
- 1 shallot, minced (for garnish)
- small pot of greek yoghurt (for serving)
Place the lentils, ginger, harissa and turmeric in a pan, and add enough water to cover the lentils 2x. Bring to a boil, then simmer over a moderate heat for 10 minutes. Stir in the tomato paste and cook for a further 20-ish minutes. Add bulgur and continue simmering for however long it takes for your lentils to get a little mushy - in this case you want them slightly overcooked so they break down and thicken your pot. ((Add water as needed, both the lentils and the bulgur will absorb a LOT of it, keep adding it a bit at a time to avoid a soupy consistency in the end.)) Add salt and set aside.
Heat the butter in a small pan. Add the cumin and garlic and allow the mixture to become fragrant, 1-2 minutes. Stir in the coriander powder and garam masala, mix well, then pour the mixture into the pan of lentils.
Add spinach. Place pot back on heat and add a little hot water if you need it, heating just long enough for the spinach to wilt - maybe 2 minutes - stirring to incorporate spinach into the lentil mixture.
Serve hot with a big dollop of greek yogurt and sprinkle with minced shallot.
Serve with toast points, or if you're feeling frisky, a nice crusty, olive-oil brushed french or italian loaf.