You may have noticed that I haven’t been blogging much in the past week or two: the reason being, I had some kind of nasty stomach bug. I won’t go into the details, but needless to say, my diet consisted mainly of vegemite and toast, and I couldn’t stand the thought of being anywhere near food for most of last week.
I was still feeling pretty mopey on Monday. I’m blaming the after effects of the stomach bug, depletion of vegetables from my diet, the cold weather finally kicking in and a lack of direction about what my future holds. I have now spent several months kicking around and do not seem to be any closer to figuring out “The Next Big Thing”. I have had a wonderful time so far, travelling, volunteering, writing this blog, spending more time with my friends and family, relaxing and enjoying a slower life. I have become one of those people who sit aimlessly at coffee shops in the middle of the day, with an iPad, never in a hurry, ordering yet another green tea. What I have figured out is what I don’t want to do, which I guess is somewhat helpful in the scheme of things.
After several hours of staring into the never-ending internet void researching a new printer for my upcoming consultancy work (because that is a good way to spend half a day), I decided to pull myself together and cook myself into a better mood. I then spent another couple of hours researching Indian and Nepalese curry recipes (because that is such a better way to spend the other half of a day). On our lazy movie nights, we often order quanti dal from our favourite takeaway, the Nepalese Sherpa Kitchen: it is a lentil and red kidney bean packed dish tempered with fragrant cumin and garlic – I’m aware that lentil and kidney beans are not really a selling point for most, but it is so, so good. I wanted to make something similar, with lentils and garam masala flavours.
I kept coming across the ingredient asafoetida in curry recipes, which I had never previously heard of before this month or ever seen in a supermarket, but is apparently a crucial ingredient in Indian dishes. Actually, it is about the fourth time I’ve seen it mentioned this month – and again spotted in this delicious looking chickpea recipe from Cook Republic, which was adapted into the curry recipe below. I decided it was time to stop pretending it wasn’t there, so I found an Indian spice store and set out, still in my mopey track suit pants, to find it (and mango powder and my good mood). I wish I had taken a photo of the spice store – it is an amazing store, crammed full of all kinds of spices, herbs, chutneys, pastes, lentils, beans, flours and every other Indian ingredient, condiment or brand you could think of. The owner told me he has been in Sydney for over 30 years and started the store because he couldn’t find any Indian products in Australia. Haven’t times changed… He stocked the elusive asafoetida, warned me that it was very pungent, and advised to only add a small pinch.. The Germans refer to it as the “devils dung”, so be warned. It did smell very odd (kind of like stale leeks??) but I was pretty happy with the flavour of this curry, so I guess once cooked, it did its thing.
The only thing missing to revive my spirit was some greens, so I rustled up this leek and spinach side dish from Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s “River Cottage Veg“, using the baby leeks I had purchased at the Manly Food & Wine Festival on Sunday. I had also planned to make some flatbreads (which I’ve been obsessing about lately as you may notice from my Pinterest board) but dinnertime was fast approaching and my mood improved after chatting with the Indian grocer, so I just bought some roti instead.
This recipe serves 4 adults, when accompanied with brown rice and roti (or two people for dinner, with leftovers for lunch the next day). There are quite a few spices, but once you get them together, the curry is very easy to make and jus needs some time to simmer. It is fairly tangy with the lemon juice, yoghurt and tamarind paste, so its best to be conservative when adding these to the curry.
- 2 red onions, quartered
- 1cm piece ginger, roughly chopped
- 2 garlic cloves, roughly chopped,
- 1 red chilli, roughly chopped
- 150g ripe tomatoes
- 2 dried bay leaves
- 1 whole cardamom pod, crushed
- 3-4 white peppercorns
- 1 teaspoon cinnamon
- 1/2 tablespoon cumin seeds
- 1/2 tablespoon coriander seeds
- 1/4 teaspoon ground turmeric
- 1/4 teaspoon sea salt
- 1 tablespoon garam masala
- Small pinch of asafoetida
- 1 teaspoon dark muscovado sugar
- 1/2 teaspoon mango powder
- 2 tablespoons lemon juice
- 1 teaspoon tamarind paste
- 2 tablespoons yoghurt
- 1/2 cup green lentils, rinsed
- 1 cup red lentils, rinsed
- 2-3 cups water
- Olive oil, for cooking
- 4-5 baby leeks
- Coconut oil, for cooking
- 1 clove garlic, finely chopped
- 1 bunch spinach
- 1 teaspoon curry powder
- 400mL coconut milk
- Sea salt, to taste
- A small handful of peanuts, dry roasted
- Squeeze of fresh lime
Other bits and pieces
- 2 cups cooked brown rice
- 2-4 roti (we used chickpea roti)
- Add onions, garlic, ginger, chilli and tomatoes to blender and pulse a couple of times until finely chopped.
- Heat a large heavy bottomed saucepan on medium heat and add a tablespoon of olive oil. Gently fry the bay leaves, cardamom pod, peppercorns and cinnamon for a minute, and then add the onion and tomato mixture. Cook for 5 minutes until the mixture has reduced.
- While the onion and tomato mix is reducing, fry the cumin and coriander seeds in a dry frypan over medium heat for a couple of minutes until fragrant. Grind to a fine powder using a mortar and pestle.
- Add ground cumin and coriander, turmeric, salt, garam masala, asafoetida, sugar, mango powder, tamarind paste and lemon juice to onion and tomato mixture and stir well. Cook for 5 minutes to incorporate the flavours. Taste – it may be a bit sour, so you may need a bit more sugar or salt.
- Begin to cook the rice. Stir the yoghurt into the curry and cook for another minute.
- Add the green lentils and one cup of water to the saucepan and simmer for 25 minutes. After 25 minutes, add the red lentils and two cups of water and simmer for 20-25 minutes. Check the curry occasionally – you may need to add some more water if the sauce reduces too much. The curry will be ready once the green and red lentils are cooked through (the green lentils will retain some bite).
Green vegetables et al
- Just after you add the red lentils to the curry, trim the leeks and cut diagonally into 1 cm pieces.
- In a wok or other heavy bottomed saucepan, fry the garlic in coconut oil over low-medium heat. Add the leeks and fry for about 5 minutes. Stir in the curry powder and continue to cook the leeks until they are tender.
- Add the stems of the spinach and cook for another minute or two. Add the coconut milk and simmer for a couple of minutes. Add the remainder of the spinach and cook on low heat until the spinach wilts. Remove from heat.
- Heat another frypan and add the flatbreads – cook for 30 seconds on each side.
- Squeeze some lime juice over the leeks and spinach, and serve with rice, the lentil curry and the flatbreads.