Posts Tagged ‘curry’

With Apologies to Pakistan: Sweet Potato-Lentil Curry with Kale

October 13, 2014

india stew


Are you there Kitchen Mischief? It’s me, Josh.

I never really left you. I’ve been piddling about, doing some professional mischief for my day job at Taste of the South magazine, and some ramshackle weeknight mischief at home, which has been edible but just that; not necessarily remarkable. And then this “curry” happened.

I say “curry” because this dish has curry in it. No self-respecting person of Indian or Pakistani descent would dare call my cooking “Indian.” And that’s OK. Regardless of its authenticity, I can attest to the fact that this stew was durn good.

It was richly spiced but not hot as hell; creamy but not fatty, and vegetarian-ish but not obnoxiously so (I used chicken broth). Oh, and hearty and healthy, thanks to the kale, lentils, and sweet potatoes (thanks, Mom!). And the best part—it took right around 30 minutes.

Let’s get on to that recipe. I’ll ramble on a little more below if you’re still in the mood to read. 😉


Sweet Potato and Lentil Curry with Kale

Yield: 4 to 6 servings

Before we begin, a note on spices. Every curry powder is a little different. I would recommend starting with a mild curry powder, a teaspoon at a time, until you get to know each other. You can always increase the heat level to taste with cayenne at the end. If you’re really adventurous, start by toasting whole spices in the canola oil before adding the onion. (I used cumin seeds because I had them). Otherwise, just proceed as directed below, and get ready to have your house smell like Pakistan.

1 tablespoon canola oil
1 yellow onion, diced
1 cinnamon stick
1 to 2 tablepoons curry powder* (see note)
5 to 6 cloves garlic, chopped
2 to 3 tablespoons chopped fresh ginger
4 sweet potatoes, peeled and coarsely chopped
2 teaspoons kosher salt, plus additional to taste
1 (48-ounce) container chicken broth
1 1/2 cups reduced fat coconut milk
1 1/2 cups dried lentils
1 strip lime zest
About 1 cup water
4 cups chopped fresh kale, firmly packed
¼ to ½ cup chopped fresh cilantro
Toasted naan bread, to serve

FIRST: In a large Dutch oven, heat the canola oil over medium heat. Add cinnamon stick, onion, and curry powder. Cook, stirring often, until softened and fragrant, about 5 minutes. Add garlic and ginger. Cook, stirring frequently, 2 minutes more. Add sweet potato and salt, stirring to coat.

THEN: Add broth, coconut milk, lentils, zest, and water as needed. Increase heat to medium-high to bring to a boil; reduce heat to medium-low and simmer 15 minutes. Gently stir in kale in batches; cook 5 minutes more. Season with additional salt, to taste. Stir in cilantro just before serving.


About Naan

If you’re not familiar with Indian cuisine, let’s talk about naan (pronounced ‘non,’) which always confuses my father. I say, “Dad, we’re having naan-bread pizzas for supper,” to which he responds with a Southpark-like blink-blink, trying to figure out why I’m taking his bread away, and what the nether-hell I’m going to make the crust out of. Naan bread is an Indian flat bread, like a cross between pita bread and a pizza crust. There’s a version available in many supermarkets by Stonefire; it’s really tasty. Anyhoo, I brushed one flatbread with olive oil, sprinkled with seasoning (cumin and special salt, from Matthew), and baked at 350° for 10 minutes. This pretty picture was not taken by me.





Perhaps this stew was made all the better by the gifts that brought it into being. Mom brought over a bag of sweet potato discards from the garden, sweet little orange runtlings that were destined for the compost heap. After a good scrub and peel, and they were good as new. And Matthew (fresh from Paris) brought me a treasure trove of artisan-blended Parisian spices, which I used to flavor my naan bread. Best. Stuff. Ever. I’ll do a whole post on it later.


india spice


And of course it was made all the more mischievous because I was cooking in our new kitchen. You see, we’re trying to sell our old (current) house, and I’m not joking about the whole your-house-will-smell-like-Pakistan thing. It’s a fragrant truth. And it’s not that I have anything against Pakistan; I just think there’s a reason realtors tell you to whip up a batch of homemade cookies and NOT a pot of curry before potential buyers come over.

ANYWAY, cooking in the new kitchen is like camping—you get to improvise. So when it was time to transport the stew back to the other house for dinner and I couldn’t find pot holders, I had to get resourceful.


india travel


And yes, between coming up with my makeshift potholders and lucking into this delicious stew, I was QUITE pleased with myself. I hope that you have the same success with this “curry” as I did, and that it brings a mischievous smile to your face, too.

Happy Cooking, and light a candle! 😉


The Vegetarian Suicides

January 9, 2012

Normally, New Year’s Resolutions elicit a HUGE eyeroll from yours truly. It’s all the big talkin’ and grandiose proclamations that turn me off, I guess. That, and all the commercials aimed at our Guilt Centers.

Turn on the TV — Jennifer Hudson is singing to herself about being hungry, Janet Jackson is whispering about how great it is to eat an overpriced Lean Cuisine, and Michael Phelps has put down his bong long enough to peddle Subway sandwiches.

But despite all of my Resolutionary Disdain, I actually have one of my own this year — to prepare a vegetarian meal at least once a week.

Why? No huge, dramatic reason. Veggies are good for you and I’m getting bored in the kitchen. There you go.

WARNING: Before you continue reading, please understand that you’re not going to walk away from this with a great vegetarian recipe. Or, a recipe at all, for that matter. Instead, you’re going to witness the massive amounts of self-created melodramatic culinary mischief I experienced in the attempt to overcompensate for the lack of animal ingredients in my supper.

And so … let’s begin.

Josh Attempts a Vegetarian Korma

For me, the biggest challenge to preparing an all-vegetable meal is my hardwired culinary stereotype about what constitutes a proper dinner plate: One meat, one starch, one veggie. Stripped of my stereotypical plate plan, I’m helpless, like a cat with a scarf tied around his midsection. I just lie on the floor, unable to move, flopping my tail in frustration.

I turned to Facebook for inspiration, and many friends stepped up to help. One of the first suggestions was a Vegetable Korma, which is basically a vegetable curry.  Matthew’s been on me for years to write about cooking Indian food, so I thought I’d start with that. I Googled “vegetable korma,” found this recipe, and proceeded to mischiefize it.

The recipe called for sautéing all the aromatics and veggies, adding broth, and them simmering the whole thing into submission. But my buddy Barefoot is constantly preaching about the virtues of roasting things for more flavor, so I got out a sheet pan.

This photo is a trick. I actually covered a crappier pan with tin foil and roasted the veggies on that. The truth is that I can't abide how ghetto tin foil looks in photographs, so I faked it because yes, I am that crazy on the inside.

I decided to roast half of my sweet potatoes and all of the mushrooms to add texture and condense the flavors. Mushrooms in particular go kinda meaty when roasted, so this prospect excited me. I drizzled the lot with olive oil, sprinkled with salt and pepper, then climbed on a stool to survey my wonderland of spices.

This is precisely why people shy away from making their own Indian food and just head to Silver Coin or Taj India — you could spend a fortune on spices. Here’s a trick — find an ethnic food store (Golden Temple, the Asian Market near the old Jazz Café, or even a Latin American grocery store) and buy whole spices in bulk. Then, get some mason jars, divvy up the goods, and you’re ready to cook pretty much anything. I realize this is fairly impractical for most folks, but it’s so much fun to look up on my shelf every day and see my Witch’s Brew-worthy collection of exotic goodies. The only thing missing is Eye of Newt, which I’m pretty sure I could find at the Red Pearl near Greensprings…

Anyway, this is going to be a long post, so you may want to grab some coffee and come back.

Okay — so my next step was to make a spice mixture for my oiled, waiting-for-roasting veggies (by now, they’re on their real pan). Garam Masala is a popular Indian spice mix made of a handful of toasted whole spices that are ground up. I used a pre-made garam mix, plus some curry powder, and roasted my veggies at 400 degrees for about 30 minutes.

Next, I got all my prep done. I rough-chopped onions, sweet potatoes, carrots, red bells, and zucchini, and set them aside.

Then I went on to finely dice my Indian Trinity — garlic, ginger, and more onion.

My Cooking Channel friend and Spice Goddess Bal Arneson says you don’t have to peel ginger — just chop it up with the skin on. So I do that, because it’s fun and kinda mischiefy.

After that, I raided my whole spices for some goodies to grind up and add to my trinity. Most of the time, I use an electric coffee grinder to bash up my spices, but looky what I found instead!

I love small things, and this has to be the world’s smallest mortar and pestle. It’s absolutely impractical, but SO MUCH FUN. I grabbed some whole cumin seeds, whole coriander, pepper flakes, onion seeds, and curry powder, and got to bashing! After getting my trinity sautéing in some canola oil, I added my spice mixture.

Keep your heat on medium low, so as to avoid burning the garlic. Next, I added the veggies, starting with the longest cookers (carrots and potatoes) and ending with the fastest cookers (peppers and onions). After a good sauté, I added some special broth, but not before adding a few cubes of pre-made mischief:

Any idea what these are? You know how you’re following a recipe, and it calls for one tablespoon of tomato paste or a quarter cup of coconut milk? Instead of trashing the extra, freeze it. I glopped out tablespoons of tomato paste onto a cookie sheet (with parchment paper), froze them, and voila, no waste! The coconut milk was a little more trouble — I had a plastic egg carton and a I poured it into the cups. Getting it out was a pain and very noisy, but still — no waste!

Anyway, I added these to my broth, along with a little more curry powder and a pinch of saffron (see above section about overcompensation for meat absence).

After that, I added ground cashews and greek yogurt to thicken it up. Here’s where the mischief starting compounding. Cashews were fine. No problem. But that greek yogurt — SONAFABITCH! I added it and it immediately separated, curdled, something — it completely nastified itself into my previously gorgeous, mischievously multistep Overcompensation Stew. Frantic Googling revealed the sad truth — yogurt just does this. DAMMMIT! Exhausted, I set my Cauldron of Disappointment to simmer and focused on the rice and the topping.

This got me excited again — I toasted coconut and chopped cashews together for a nice crunchy finish. This turned out to be quite delicious and temporarily distracted me from my bubbling Dish of Despair. I chopped some cilantro and tossed it into the pot — things were starting to look better — but it still wouldn’t get as thick as I wanted. By this time, I was OVER IT, so I pulled the culinary equivalent of a tourniquet — I made a slurry of cornstarch and water and added it to the fray. I added in my reserved, roasted mushrooms and sweet potatoes, and that was all I could do. At this point, I threw up my hands in surrender and began the plating process.

Saffron rice (made with actual saffron, see Overcompensating, paragraph 5), topped with Slurry Curry, topped with cilantro and green onion, sprinkled with a FABULOUS toasted cashew and coconut garnish.

I’m not gonna lie — it kinda looks like vomit. Hence the garnish. At least it looks like fancy vomit.

Fortunately, it tasted much better than that. Somehow, the Yogurt Separation Situation resolved itself (however I will NEVER use yogurt in this fashion again), and the flavors were really good. Was it as good as a curry dish with…say…chicken in it? I honestly think so. Taking the extra steps to roast and toast were time consuming, but worth it. So, after all that — SUCCESS! Vegetarian SUCCESS!

At least that’s what I thought. After dinner, I went into the kitchen to help David clean up. I started putting away spices, etc., and reached down to pick up the lid and put it back on the jar of my concentrated bouillon. Concentrated CHICKEN bouillon. Shit.

I’m coming clean here, but I’m still claiming this dish as my first vegetarian success. If any of you vegans out there want to challenge me on this, I’ll be glad to arm wrestle you for my honor. I eat meat the other six days a week, so I’m pretty sure I can take you. 😉

Here’s looking forward to more GENUINE vegetarian mischief!