My mind’s eye gazes toward a distant land and I can hear the waves of the sea, lapping against the shore in the sultry heat of the day. Just up the beach, there’s a market full of people. Even at this distance, I’m assaulted by the joyful noise of their excitement, mingling with the jumble of exotic smells emanating from row upon row of strange and beautiful spices, nuts, roots and produce.
As I enter the market and take my first look, I’m astounded by the colors! Surely the full spectrum of the rainbow is represented in this place. I walk past warm and golden yellows, mellow ochres and bright oranges. A few steps further are blueish purples and rosy reds contrasting with the greens of edibles from land and sea. Then a startling array of pinks and salmons alongside the browns…from the palest of tans and reddish mahogany, to the deepest, darkest, burnt umber.
The bounty and variety of ingredients is seemingly endless. I jostle my way past the crowd, eyeing the smooth, cool fruits and round and rooted vegetables. Berries of every kind are displayed in one stall, and in the next are the wrinkled shells of nuts, some deeply textured barks used for spices, and a multitude of seed pods. I make my way to the fresh and dried legumes which share space with bright, shiny peppers of every shape and size and an abundance of fragrant, fresh herbs. My imagination runs wild and my senses are fully engaged…engulfed in a world of sight, smell and taste as I think of the many dishes you could create from ingredients such as these.
And that, my friends, is what curry does to me. The mere thought or smell of it has the power to transport me to another place and time—to open my mind to possibilities and experiences, and then bring me back again to the potential of the deliciousness in my grocery basket or the food my plate!
Is it love? Why yes, I believe it is.
In a dish, curry can enhance other ingredients and assert itself at the same time. I love it in everything from an American Southern rendition of a chicken salad, to Thai and Indian preparations. It’s also fabulous very simply swirled with a little mayo as a quickly made, but complex tasting, dipping sauce for fresh asparagus, artichokes or other veggies. If you haven’t already figured this out, it’s my favorite spice combination and I could eat it any way you can think of to use it!
This week, I used it in a simple and hearty stew to take the wet chill away. Starting with some pretty salmon-pink colored, dried and organic lentils, and inspired by thoughts of Indian Dal and Masala Dosa, this rich stew came to life—a complete meal unto itself. It’s something to warm and awaken your taste buds, something to make you happy and nourish the soul…and something that I used to transport myself out of my stuffed-up head (I have a cold) and send me back on my way to wellness.
Yes, I feel MUCH better already!
Curried and Spiced Lentil Stew
Makes 6-8 servings
1 Tablespoon olive oil
1 medium to large red onion, peeled and diced
1 large carrot, peeled and diced
5 cloves of peeled and minced fresh garlic
2 Tablespoons of peeled and minced fresh ginger
2 Tablespoons of good quality yellow curry powder
1/4 teaspoon of cayenne pepper
pinch of kosher salt
several grinds of black pepper
6 cups of homemade low salt chicken stock, or you can use vegetable or low sodium chicken broth
2 cups water
1 1/2 cups dried red or pink lentils, picked over carefully and rinsed
3/4 lb. Yukon gold potatoes, skin on and diced
1-14 oz. can no salt added pure diced tomatoes and their juice
2 Tablespoons of chopped, fresh cilantro leaves, divided
5 oz. baby spinach leaves
1/2 teaspoon each of kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, or to taste
Optional garnishes of chopped fresh cilantro and plain Greek yogurt (I use 2%)
Heat a large stock pot or dutch oven over medium heat and add the oil to the pan. Add the onion, carrot, garlic and ginger and cook, stirring frequently, until the vegetables are softened, about 5-7 minutes. Add the curry, cayenne pepper, a pinch of kosher salt and some freshly ground black pepper to vegetables and cook, stirring constantly, for 1 minute. Add the chicken stock or broth, water, 1 Tablespoon of the cilantro leaves, tomatoes with juice, potatoes and lentils, and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to simmer and lightly cover, leaving an opening for steam to escape. Cook until the lentils and potatoes are done, about 20-25 minutes. Remove the lid and stir in the spinach and the remaining cilantro, allowing the spinach to wilt. Season to taste with kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper. Serve in bowls and garnish with a dollop of yogurt and a sprinkle of chopped cilantro. With your first bite, close your eyes and see where it transports you! Naan served alongside this stew is very good.