Archives for posts with tag: Garam Masala

Lentils can be quick. Let me prove it to you. I worked from home yesterday and in the time it took me to get ready to go to a noon yoga class I had prepared a dahl with rice.

I’ve written before on dahl but that was a little more labor-intensive and time-consuming than this quickie meal. This meal, while it can be put together in a snap, still has plenty of payoff: filling, satisfying, and spicy, these lentils go great with steaming basmati rice and a side of greens.

I’m not sure how or why, but dahl is one my ultimate comfort foods. Given that I grew up on pb&j and fish sticks, this isn’t necessarily intuitive, but it’s now a given. Once I discovered I could make my own at home, well, the rest is history.

And one of the best parts about this dish was I had everything on hand and did not consult even one recipe. I worked from memory and guessed on the amounts of everything.

If you have garam masala on hand it will make this meal all that faster. If not, you have a couple of options. Either use what you have and make the best of it: turmeric powder and ground cumin will go a long way. If you have coriander seeds, cumin seeds, cardamom seeds, whole black peppercorns, mustard seeds, and the time and patience, I’d recommend quickly toasting these in a small cast-iron skillet, then grinding in a spice or coffee grinder. You can see my recipe here for a homemade curry powder, or garam masala.

Any lentils will really work here, except maybe French green lentils, which I’d use more for salads than dahl. I used the red lentils I always have on hand—the pinch of turmeric is what turns the dish yellow. I threw in half a veggie bouillon cube for flavor, but you definitely don’t need to.

The key to making this dish, and making it seem effortless, is getting everything cooking in the pot, then forgetting about it while you go do something else for a while, like some downward dogs.

Curry in a Hurry

Makes 4 servings

1 tbsp olive oil, butter, or ghee
1 medium onion, diced
2 dried red chiles
1 tbsp garam masala
1/2 tsp turmeric
2 c water
1 c lentils, rinsed and drained
1/2 bouillon cube, optional
salt, to taste

In a large, sturdy pot, heat your oil or butter over a medium flame, then add the diced onion. Cook the onion for about 5-10 minutes; you can leave the lid partially on to speed along the cooking and avoid the onions smoking. Once the onions are translucent or starting to brown, add a dash of salt, 1 or 2 dried red chiles, depending on how much heat you like, the garam masala, and turmeric. Give it all a stir.

Add 1 c of water and the lentils and turn up the heat and bring to a boil. Once boiling, you can add the bouillon if using, and the remaining 1 c water. Turn the heat down to simmer and cover completely. Let simmer for at least 15 minutes, if that’s all the time you have, a little bit more if you’ve got the time. Turn off the heat, keep the lid on, and let stand for at least 10 more minutes.

Quick tip: I turned off the heat on the lentils after about 15 minutes of cooking, went to my class, and when I came back they were done. (If you like them more creamy, or completely dissolved, let cook for longer.) Same with the rice, I turned off the heat after it cooked for only 15 minutes, and it cooked itself in the steam with the lid on.

Serve the dahl over rice. If it’s spicy you might like a little plain yogurt spooned on top. I also like to eat this with a side of sauteed collard greens or kale.

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This morning we packed up the house in Orient, divvied up the remaining food stuffs, and set out for a neighbor’s beautifully restored nineteenth-century horse farm. The couple bought the property in 2000 and spent three years restoring, renovating, and landscaping. Their property extends a little more than 1/2 mile to the Long Island Sound, where we strolled along the pebble beach and counted jellyfish. A 10-minute walk to and from the shore, however, yielded mosquitoes, poison ivy, and an unidentified insect that stung/bit Amy’s foot.

On the way out of town we stopped for lunch at a place called Orient by the Sea, next to the dock for the Orient-New London, CT ferry. We shared mussels, fried clam bellies, fish and chips, Caesar salad, and Arnold Palmers. Then Yuji and I took off for my grandmother’s, stopping at three different stands along the way for: more of those berries plus a cantaloupe at Oysterponds; cukes, tomatoes, and peaches in Southold; and Braun Seafood in Cutchogue.

The plan was to grill at my grandmother’s for dinner, in Levittown, before heading back to Brooklyn, so we picked up local flounder and scallops. Yuji lit the grill while I cleaned and seasoned the fish: salt, pepper, olive oil, and my homemade garam masala from last week’s curry post. I made a salad of halved Sun Gold tomatoes, slices of cucumber, and ricotta salata, dressed with olive oil, fresh lemon juice, salt, and black pepper.

It’s a real pleasure cooking for my grandmother—I don’t know whether she tells the truth or not but she’s typically effusive with praise and tonight was no different. She licked her plate clean, enough evidence for me.

This morning I was listening to a podcast I like, Lynn Rossetto Kasper’s Splendid Table. She off-handedly mentioned something about a curry using coconut milk, chiles, and chicken and with that I had tonight’s dinner puzzle solved.

I love a good, spicy curry, regardless of the weather. Today New York City was a ripe summer day, the humidity somewhere near 90% — perfect curry-eating weather as far as I’m concerned. When Yuji and I were in the Maldives in January we ate curry every day in 90-degree heat. Somehow it works.

You know how oenophiles will tell you to pair wine with whatever food you’re eating? A spicy wine with spicy food, a rich one with a rich meal, etc. Well perhaps it’s like that with curries and weather: a hot curry on a hot evening?

I was en route to the co-op this afternoon to stock up on groceries for the week. You take your chances when visiting the co-op on a Sunday. It can be hairy in there navigating tight aisles with Slopers reaching over you to grab their favorite goat-milk yogurt or stretching to fill a plastic baggie with pecan splendor granola. Today for some reason the co-op was pleasantly calm and air-conditioned. I dawdled in the bulk spice section, marveling at the bargains. I needed a lot of spices because I planned to make my own curry powder, or garam masala. For that you need coriander seeds, cumin seeds, cardamom seeds, whole black peppercorns, fennel seeds, mustard seeds, whole cloves, dried red chiles, and turmeric.

Once home I began assembling, toasting, chopping, and stirring. While you can buy curry powder pre-made, making your own garam masala will improve the quality of your curry. You can make it as spicy as you want, using more or less chiles, and store the leftovers sealed in a glass jar for up to a couple of months. I based my curry on Tyler Florence’s recipe for Spicy Chicken Coconut Curry. It would be easy to make this dish vegetarian by substituting tofu for the chicken, or just adding more veggies.

Spicy Coconut Curry

For the curry powder:
2 tbsp coriander seeds
1 tbsp cumin seeds
1 tbsp cardamom seeds
1 tbsp whole black peppercorns
1 tsp fennel seeds
1 tsp mustard seeds
1/2 tsp whole cloves
2 dried red chiles (I leave the seeds in, remove to reduce heat)
2 tbsp turmeric

Toast all the ingredients except the turmeric in a small cast-iron skillet for 2-3 minutes on low-medium heat, just until they begin to toast and smell fragrant. Let cool then transfer to a coffee grinder and blend to a powder. Combine with the turmeric, set aside 2 tbsp for the curry and store the rest in an air-tight container. Yields about 1/2 cup.

For the chicken curry:
3 tbsp unsalted butter (Use ghee if you can get it)
1 medium white onion, chopped
1 medium red onion, chopped
1-inch piece of ginger, peeled and finely chopped
4 garlic cloves, finely chopped
2 tbsp tomato paste
2 tbsp curry powder (from above)
1 cinnamon stick
1 to 3 dried red chiles (depending on the heat you like)
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 cans unsweetened light coconut milk (13-15 oz. cans)
2 cups low-sodium chicken stock
4 tomatoes, chopped
1 large eggplant or 2 smaller Japanese eggplants, chopped
3 boneless, skinless chicken breasts and 3 boneless, skinless chicken thighs, cut into 1-inch strips
1/4 c cilantro leaves plus more for garnish
1 lemon, juiced
Mint leaves, for garnish

Melt the butter in a stock pot over medium heat, when warm and melted add the onions and ginger and cook slowly until the onions are very soft, about 10 minutes. After about 5 minutes stir in the garlic. Add the tomato paste, curry powder, cinnamon stick, and chiles and stir; season with salt and pepper. Pour in the coconut milk and chicken stock and bring to a simmer; cook until the sauce has thickened, about 20 minutes. Add the tomatoes, eggplant, chicken, cilantro, half the lemon juice, and simmer for about 20 minutes. Taste and adjust with more lemon juice, salt, and pepper. Garnish with more cilantro and mint leaves.

Oh and the other thing about curries, they taste even better the next day. Good thing I have lots of leftovers.

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