sweet-tart lentils with mustard

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I have four different types of lentils in my pantry, plus a supply of yellow split peas. But since most of them are not used in Indian cooking, I find myself making substitutions quite frequently. Such as here, where the recipe called for split green lentils, but I used the standard supermarket brown lentils and it was very tasty anyway. I’ve made it a few times already this way; eventually I will get around to trying it as written.

 

Sweet-Tart Lentils with Mustard
(adapted from 660 Curries)

1 cup lentils, rinsed and checked for stones*
3 cups water

1 tablespoon neutral oil or ghee
1 teaspoon mustard seeds

2 teaspoons cumin seeds

2 teaspoons kosher or coarse sea salt [less if you’re using table salt]
1/2 teaspoon cayenne/lal mirch
1/4 teaspoon ground turmeric
1/4 teaspoon asefetida

1 14.5oz can diced tomatoes [or 1 large tomato finely chopped]
1 tablespoon crumbled jaggery or firmly packed brown sugar
1/4 cup chopped cilantro

*recipe calls for split green and I used whole brown; go with what you’ve got and adjust cooking times as necessary.

 

Notes: Decide first whether you’re going to add the sauce to the lentils or the lentils to the sauce. I find it easier to add the lentils to the sauce, but that’s a quirk of my cookware and you might decide it’s easier the other way. Whichever way you go, use the bigger pot as the destination and you’ll be fine.

Mis en place is important here, since you’re adding ingredients in rapid succession that will burn if left unattended while you hunt down the next one. I’ve grouped things in the order in which they’ll be used.

 

Start the lentils in a saucepan with the water; cook at a boil until barely tender (time dependant upon what type lentil used – split greens take about ten minutes, whole browns twice that). Skim foam as needed.

While the lentils are going, start the sauce. Heat the oil in a pan with a cover and toast the mustard seeds, covering the pan once the seeds start popping like popcorn and waiting for them to stop (30 seconds-ish).

Add the cumin seeds and stir; they’ll brown almost immediately – a few seconds.

Add the salt, cayenne, turmeric, and asefetida. Cook for a few seconds (and try not to cough on the fumes).

Add the tomato, brown sugar, and cilantro. Simmer, uncovered, for 2-3 minutes.

Once the lentils are barely tender, combine them with the sauce. Stir and simmer, covered, for 5-7 minutes. Make sure the lentils are cooked through, but not overcooked.

 

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My frozen cilantro again, and a sign that I need to go buy more lentils. And, once again with feeling: mis en place is your friend.

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The tomato sauce. plus cilantro cubes.

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Combined and ready to simmer, sort of. I combined them early (intentionally) and so I left enough liquid to make sure nothing dried out while the lentils finished up.

baingan bharta (eggplant curry)

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A pretty fabulous (in many ways) source of Indian recipes is Manjula’s Kitchen, where the eponymous chef provides recipes alongside helpful and entertaining youtube videos.

When she posted this eggplant recipe in October, I knew I was going to make it pretty soon afterward. And I did and it was easy and tasty and I plan on repeating it.

The changes I made to the recipe were minimal: I used a small can of tomatoes because I never have fresh in the house and I peeled and cubed the eggplant (which was a big one) before sticking it in the microwave.

I didn’t mash the eggplant as thoroughly as she did or cut the pepper as finely, so my finished product had a bit more texture, but I am not displeased by that.

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I wasn’t sure how apocryphal those ‘exploding eggplant’ stories were, so I peeled first. If you’re not roasting, then I don’t think it makes a whit of difference taste-wise.

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Kalustyan’s spells coriander funny. The pepper pieces were a touch too big, but I didn’t want to dice them. Next time, a happy medium.

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I’ve been eating this with rice. It freezes well, for the record.

simla mirch paneer

This – red (bell) pepper and cashew curry with paneer — was one of the first things I made out of Raghavan Iyer’s 660 Curries, the cookbook I ended up turning to most this past fall. I’ve made it twice, once roughly as written and another time with a variation I’ll get to later. It’s ridiculously easy and extremely tasty and, despite the flawed presentation above, very pretty to look at.

Simla Mirch Paneer (adapted from 660 Curries)

(in the book, it’s Cashew Cheese with a Bell Pepper Sauce, which I found impossible to remember as what I was looking for)

2 cups water
1/4 cup raw cashews
2 large red bell peppers (1 lb) trimmed and cut into 1-inch pieces
6 cardamom pods
2-4 green chiles (jalapeno, serrano, Thai, etc.) coarsely chopped — don’t seed
1.5 teaspoons kosher salt (a little less if you’re using table salt)
1 teaspoon cayenne/lal mirch/chile powder (not the mix) of choice
8 ounces paneer, cubed and pan-fried
1-2 waxy potatoes, cooked and cubed, or a handful of fingerlings, cooked and cut to uniform size (optional)
2 tablespoons cilantro, chopped for garnish (optional)

Paneer: if you haven’t cooked with it before, treat it like tofu – it’s cheese, but it won’t melt. It’ll be found in the refrigerated section of your local Indian market. Cut it up and brown it in a skillet and you’re good to go.

Throw the water, cashews, both peppers, and cardamom, in a medium-sized pot and bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer and cover, stirring occasionally, until the peppers are tender, about 20-25 minutes.

Puree the contents, either in shifts with a blender or, much better, in the pot with an immersion blender. Make sure the cardamom pods get properly destroyed or else you’ll get an unpleasant surprise.

Add the salt, chile powder, paneer, and potato (if using) and simmer for about 5 minutes. Serve with cilantro garnish, if desired.

Notes

The addition of potatoes is entirely my invention. I found the ratio of liquid to solid not what I wanted and had a few fingerlings lying around. Feel free to omit.

Okay, so here is where I confess that the first time I made this, I used extra-firm tofu instead of paneer. My Bengali friend accused me, not without cause, of disrespecting the curry, but I have to say that it was perfectly fine. So, you know, feel free – especially if you don’t have any judgmental Indians you can horrify with your culinary confessions. Or maybe especially if you do.

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Cut your paneer smaller than this. It wasn’t unwieldy, but I’ll go smaller next time. That said, you can see that it’s not saganaki – it’ll stay in shape.

peppers_cashewsThis is actually a picture from my first attempt, since I realized after this that I didn’t need such a large pot. Chasing the peppers down with the immersion blender is much easier in cozier confines.

pcc_done Paneer and potatoes, ready to go.

This curry does have some kick, especially if you’re like me and have a tendency toward a free hand with the chile powder. Which is why in addition to rice or roti or naan or whatever your accompaniment of choice is, I also suggest this:

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