16 February 2010

Spinach & Lentil Curry




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
Serves 4
  • ~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.

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