This is my go-to lentil curry recipe. I’ve made it several times now and it always makes for a filling dinner and delicious leftovers for lunch the next day. It’s also vegetarian! Actually, it’s probably vegan if you serve without yogurt.
A couple things I’ve found to be important as I made and re-made this recipe over the past year:
– Having the right spices makes a big difference. The first few times I made this, I didn’t have cumin seeds or coriander. They were a little pricey and not at my usual grocery store. But when I finally got some and added them to this dish, I figured out what I’d been missing the whole time.
– Eat with full-fat yogurt! Non-fat is not as good,of course 🙂 Full-fat everything!
– Curry is hard to photograph. Especially this color curry.
1 tablespoon tomato paste mixed with 1 tablespoon of water
1 1/4 cups dried green lentils
1/4 teaspoon ground turmeric
4 ounces green beans, cut into 3/4-inch lengths
4 ounces kale, stemmed and leaves finely chopped
1 medium carrot, thinly sliced
1 cup finely chopped cilantro
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
In a small bowl, combine the ginger, garlic, coriander and ground cumin. Stir in 1/4 cup of water to make a paste. In a small skillet, heat the oil until shimmering. Add the cumin seeds and cook over moderately high heat for 5 seconds, just until sizzling. Add the shallot and cook, stirring, until lightly browned, about 1 minute. Add the spice paste and let cook until most of the liquid has evaporated, about 2 minutes. Stir in the tomato paste and cook until thick, about 1 minute longer.
In a saucepan, combine the lentils with the turmeric and 5 cups of water; bring to a boil. Cover partially and simmer over low heat for 20 minutes, until the lentils are barely tender. Add the green beans, kale, carrot, three-fourths of the cilantro and the cayenne and season with salt. Cook until the lentils and vegetables are tender, 15 minutes. Scrape in the spice paste and the remaining cilantro. Simmer for 5 minutes, then serve with rice, naan, and/or plain yogurt.
I’m luckier than most: the first time I ever had Indian food, it was homemade by the family of one of my dad’s co-workers. My family was invited to their house for dinner, and I remember a veritable feast of dishes that didn’t look like any type of food I’d ever seen before–to be fair, I was like 8 years old at the time and my culinary experience to date included Chinese food (my mother’s cooking) and “American Food” AKA McDonald’s. That first sip of mango lassi is LIFE. CHANGING.
After that, my dad would occasionally take us to Indian lunch buffets, his go-to whenever my mother was gone. Indian food (especially Indian lunch buffets) always occupied this magical space in my little kid mind: I had absolutely no idea what any of the food was made of, but I didn’t really care because it tasted fantastic.
However, I’ve never attempted to actually cook Indian food until this year. There still remained this aura of mystery and magic around it that made me apprehensive because I was convinced it was complicated, hard, time-consuming, and I knew my meager cooking skills wouldn’t be able to handle it. Throughout college I became more and more confident in the kitchen (especially when I moved out of housing/meal plans and into an off-campus apartment), and when we moved to NY earlier this year, my boyfriend and I attempted a butter chicken recipe (link) that turned out pretty good! And no one collapsed or had a nervous breakdown in the making of it.
Saag Paneer was always one of my favorite dishes, and after looking up some recipes online, it seemed really doable. The only thing I was missing was a food processor or hand blender to help everything into a finer, creamier texture. It just so happens my birthday was a week ago, and I was lucky enough to receive an immersion blender as a birthday gift from my boyfriend’s parents! Ahhh! It’s so perfect!
This is a staged photo because I forgot to take a picture while I was actually blending and only remembered after I washed the blender and I didn’t want to get it dirty again.
Saag Paneer (link)
1 teaspoon turmeric
1/2 teaspoon cayenne
3 tablespoons plus 1 1/2 tablespoons vegetable oil
12 ounces paneer, (or see my notes below regarding a substitute), cut into 1-inch cubes
1 (16-ounce package) frozen chopped spinach (I just used a bunch of regular spinach)
1 medium white onion, finely chopped
1 (1-inch thumb) ginger, peeled and minced (about 1 tablespoon)
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 large green serrano chile, finely chopped (seeds removed if you don’t like it spicy!)
1/2 teaspoon store-bought or homemade garam masala
2 teaspoons ground coriander
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 cup plain yogurt, stirred until smooth
In a large bowl, whisk together the turmeric, cayenne, 1 teaspoon salt and 3 tablespoons oil. Gently, drop in the cubes of paneer and gently toss, taking care not to break the cubes if you’re using the homemade kind. Let the cubes marinate while you get the rest of your ingredients together and prepped.
Chop the spinach up finely with a sharp knife.
Place a large nonstick skillet over medium heat, and add the paneer as the pan warms. In a couple of minutes give the pan a toss; each piece of paneer should be browned on one side. Fry another minute or so, and then remove the paneer from the pan onto a plate.
Add the remaining 1 1/2 tablespoons oil to the pan. Add the onions, ginger, garlic and chile. Now here’s the important part: saute the mixture until it’s evenly toffee-coloured, which should take about 15 minutes. Don’t skip this step – this is the foundation of the dish! If you feel like the mixture is drying out and burning, add a couple of tablespoons of water.
Add the garam masala, coriander and cumin. If you haven’t already, sprinkle a little water to keep the spices from burning. Cook, stirring often, for about 5 minutes.
Add the spinach and stir well, incorporating the spiced onion mixture into the spinach. Add a little salt and 1/2 cup of water, stir, and cook about 5 minutes with the lid off. At this point, I used my immersion blender to further blend up the spinach
Turn the heat off. Add the yogurt, a little at a time to keep it from curdling. Once the yogurt is well mixed into the spinach, add the paneer. Turn the heat back on, cover and cook until everything is warmed through, about 5 minutes. Serve with rice and/or naan (I only had brown rice).
I made a few changes to this recipe out of necessity:
Definitely did NOT have time to make homemade paneer, and no idea where to get it around my area. Did some research online and replaced the paneer with queso fresco, a mild, firm cheese from Latin America that is sold in abundance at the (Hispanic-leaning) grocery store closest to my apartment. I’ve had actual paneer before and I think this was a perfectly suitable substitute. Here’s (link) where I got the idea from.
Also didn’t have garam masala. This recipe includes directions for making your own garam masala, but I didn’t have cardamom and the grocery store close to me didn’t have any either. So I just included a bit of cinnamon and ground cloves instead. I think this, more than anything, is something I could definitely improve on the next time I make this recipe–my dish was a little lacking in the spice-aroma arena, and I’m pretty sure it’s because I was missing this.
And I had to make do with non-fat yogurt because the store didn’t have full-fat yogurt! How can you carry a non-fat item without its better, yummier, full-fat cousin? I am a big fan of eating the full amount of fat allowed in every kind of food
Time for a confession: I’m Chinese-American, but I don’t really know how to make Chinese food. As a poor college student, trekking out to Chinatown every week to get the requisite ingredients didn’t work with my schedule, and my local grocery stores always overpriced the items in the “ethnic food” aisles. Now that I’ve graduated and have a bit more spending money, things like sesame oil ($11.00 for 12 fl. oz! That’s 5x the price of olive oil!) are a more within my reach.
I tried to start with something simple–broccoli, which I love and have been sauteing lightly with some olive oil + salt for years, and chicken, which I had zero experience making before this recipe. Meat is a mystery to me. I’m not a vegetarian, but I rarely buy and even more rarely cook meat. It scares me a little only because of my ignorance, but I put my big girl pants on and went to the grocery store and found a packet of boneless, skinless, chicken thighs and purchased it all on my own. My reward was this yummy dinner.
1/2 cup water 1 tablespoon olive or other vegetable oil 1.5 lb broccoli crowns, florets and stems, chopped 2 tablespoons oyster sauce
Instructions: Cut chicken into bite-sized pieces, and put into a large mixing bowl with the garlic, ginger, sugar, soy sauce, rice wine vinegar, 0.5 tbsp cornstarch, 0.5 tbsp salt, and sesame oil. Mix everything together really well, and marinate for 20-30 minutes.
Mix together the 0.5 cup water and 1.5 tbsp cornstarch.
In the meantime, cut up the broccoli, also into bite-sized pieces, and stir-fry it in a large pan with the 1 tbsp oil and remaining 0.5 tsp salt. Stir-fry broccoli for about 5 minutes, or when broccoli is fully cooked but still crisp. Transfer to plate.
Pour the chicken and its marinade into the same pan. Keep stirring until chicken is fully cooked, about 6 minutes. Then add the 2 tbsp oyster sauce, stir, and add the broccoli back in. After the broccoli has warmed back up, add in the cornstarch + water mixture, keep stirring until sauce thickens.