Curried lentils are served with basmati rice and garnished with cilantro. (Photo by Tressa Dale/Peninsula Clarion)

Curried lentils are served with basmati rice and garnished with cilantro. (Photo by Tressa Dale/Peninsula Clarion)

An introduction to Indian-style curry

This red lentil curry is mild and accessible

One balmy spring evening, my sister and I were exploring a small town in California and were suddenly hit with an intoxicating scent. We followed the manicured sidewalk to a bistro courtyard shaded by flowering trees and decorated with greenery and trickling fountains. The air was thick with the aroma of toasted spices and charred meats, and we decided to stay and order dinner.

We had up until then only tasted Japanese-style curry, which is quite different from the Indian style, and we were overwhelmed by the depth of it. It took some time to acclimate my palate, but once I did, I found a whole new world of flavor to explore on my food journey.

Chicken vindaloo and saag paneer are lovely, and are my usual choices in restaurants, but when cooking at home, my favorite dishes are vegan curries due to the low cost, low effort, and dietary benefits. This red lentil curry is mild and accessible, making it an excellent introduction to Indian-style curries, and paired with a side of fragrant basmati rice, makes a complete and nutritious meal. This dish can be prepared in around 30 minutes, making it a great weeknight option for even the busiest cook. It also stores well and is a superb dish for meal-preppers.

Red lentil curry

Ingredients:

1 tablespoon coconut oil

2 tablespoons minced garlic

4 tablespoons minced fresh ginger

1 serrano pepper (optional but highly recommended) deseeded and minced

1 teaspoon ground turmeric

1 teaspoon ground cumin

2 teaspoons curry powder

1 teaspoon garam masala

1 teaspoon ground coriander

1 teaspoon salt

½ teaspoon ground black pepper

1 cup red lentils

2 cups vegetable stock or water

1 14-ounce can crushed tomatoes

1 13.5-ounce can coconut milk (full fat is best)

¼ cup fresh squeezed lemon juice

1/3 cup fresh cilantro, roughly chopped

Directions:

Heat the coconut oil over medium-high heat.

Saute the garlic, ginger and serrano pepper until fragrant, about 5 minutes, stirring constantly to prevent burning.

Add ground spices and salt and pepper and continue cooking for another 5 minutes, stirring constantly, as the dry spices will burn easily.

Add the vegetable stock to deglaze the pan. Be sure to scrape up any bits that may be stuck to the bottom.

Add the lentils and crushed tomatoes and stir to combine.

Turn the heat down to low and simmer for about 20 minutes, stirring often, until the lentils are soft.

Add in the coconut milk and gently stir to combine. You might need to empty the can into a separate bowl and whisk before adding to the curry if the coconut milk has separated.

Cook for another 5 minutes before turning off the heat.

Finish with lemon juice, taste, and season with extra salt and pepper if necessary.

Serve with basmati rice and/or garlic naan and garnish with cilantro.

There are a lot of benefits to incorporating more vegan dishes into your dinner rotation. The health and moral aspects aside, meat and dairy are often the most expensive items in your cart, and I have found that eating less of them has drastically reduced our grocery bills.

I encourage anyone who might be wishing to reduce their meat and dairy intake to consider Indian cuisines, which are often either vegan or vegan adaptable, and are so exciting and satisfying you won’t even miss the meat.

Tressa Dale is a culinary and pastry school graduate and U.S. Navy veteran from Anchorage. She lives in Nikiski with her husband, 2-year-old son and two black cats.

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