This curry was like a performance of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony that I’d once heard…..especially the last movement, with everything screaming and banging “Joy.'” It stunned, it made one fear great art. My father could say nothing after the meal.
~Anthony Burgess

Lens culinaris is a bushy annual legume, well adapted to semi-arid, cool conditions and cultivated for its lens-shaped seeds which are usually smaller than an eraser head. Low in fat and protein/iron laden lentils have a mild, nutty, and fairly terrene flavor. Given their nutritive vigor, they form an intergral part of global diets, especially in the Indian subcontinent with its abundant vegetarian populace. Vegan comfort food.

The rainbow coalition of lentil shades is dazzling: black, beluga, brown, green, orange, maroon, crimson, pink, red, tan, yellow, white, black & white. A common red lentil is the Red Chief which is a lovely salmon pink in dried form, but turns golden when cooked. As lentils are rather submissive by nature, they are suited to more dominant, assertive spices, such as sense-evocative curries.

Dried lentils may be stored in an airtight container for up to a year in a cool, dry place…a pantry sine qua nons.

RED OR BROWN LENTIL CURRY

2 t cumin seeds
2 t coriander seeds
1/4 t mustard seeds
1 T black peppercorns

1 t turmeric
1 t red pepper flakes

1 medium yellow onion, peeled and finely chopped
2 T canola oil oil
1 T fresh ginger, peeled and finely chopped
2 garlic cloves, peeled and finely chopped
1 fresh jalapeño or serrano chile, seeded and finely chopped
1 T curry paste

1 t sea salt
1 t freshly ground black pepper

2 C vegetable stock
1 1/2 C dried red or brown lentils
1 (14-oz) can unsweetened coconut milk
1 cinnamon stick
Sea salt

Basmati rice, cooked
1 C fresh cilantro leaves, roughly chopped

Spread lentils out on a large plate to check for, and remove, small stones or debris. Then, place lentils in a strainer, and rinse thoroughly under cool running water.

In a small heavy skillet, combine the coriander, cumin, mustard seeds and peppercorns. Toast over low medium heat, shaking the pan until very slightly browned but not burned, 2-3 minutes. Cool and then add to a spice grinder or coffee mill and grind to a fine powder. Add the turmeric and red pepper and pulse the grinder a couple of times until well mixed. Set aside the curry spice powder.

Saute onion in oil in a heavy medium sauce pan or Dutch oven over medium high heat, stirring occasionally, until translucent and just turning golden, about 6 minutes. Add ginger, garlic and jalapeño or serrano chile and cook, stirring, 1-2 minutes. Add the curry spice powder (above) and curry paste; cook, stirring, 1 minute.

Stir in stock, lentils, coconut milk, cinnamon stick and bring to a boil, then reduce heat to a simmer. Simmer, covered, until lentils are tender, about 25-30 minutes. Season with salt to taste.

Serve over Basmati rice with cilantro scattered on top.

Pourboire: Cauliflower florets can be added for the last 10 minutes of the simmer.

Chicken Curry

June 1, 2009

I’m not confused, I’m just well mixed.
~Robert Frost

Curry — a pervasive word with disputed origins. Members of the East India Company which expanded to become the British Empire in India may have adopted, then transformed the word “curry” from the Portuguese who had adopted the term from Tamil term, karil or kaari. Others posit that the word may have originated from karahi, a wok style metal vessel in which some Indian dishes are prepared. Another theory is that curry evolved from kadhi or khari which is a northern Indian yogurt based dish. To further confuse matters, some linguists suggest that the word has English origins in the first place. During Richard II’s reign, the first English cook book was authored by a consortium of staff cooks and even philosophers whose work was entitled The Forme of Cury (ca 1390). Cury was the Old English word for cooking derived from the French verb cuire — to cook.

Curry is meant to appeal to the senses, and these bowls will not disappoint.

CHICKEN CURRY

6 shallots, peeled and thinly sliced (or sweet yellow onions)
4 plump, fresh garlic cloves, peeled and finely chopped
1 – 2″ piece fresh ginger root, peeled and finely chopped
3 serrano chiles, stemmed, seeded and finely chopped
2 T water

3 lbs chicken leg-thigh quarters
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper
Curry powder*
2 T unsalted butter
1 T canola or vegetable oil

2 T curry powder
1+ T green, red or yellow curry paste
1/2 T biryani masala powder
1 t coriander, roasted and ground
1 t cumin, roasted and ground
1+ 14 oz can unsweetened coconut milk, stirred
2 C fresh chicken broth
1 jalapeño chile, stemmed, seeded and sliced (optional)
1 cinnamon stick
4 whole cloves
4 star anise
3/4 C black currants, plumped in hot tap water

Unsalted roasted cashews, chopped (for garnish)
Fresh cilantro, chopped (for garnish)

In a food processor chop fine shallots, garlic, ginger root, and chiles. Add water and purée to a paste.

Pat chicken dry thoroughly with paper towels and season with salt, pepper and curry powder. In a large, heavy casserole heat butter and oil over moderately high heat until hot but not smoking and brown chicken in 2 batches, about 5 minutes per side. Transfer to a platter and loosely tent with foil.

Over medium high heat add shallot paste and cook, stirring, 1 minute. Add curry powder, curry paste, biryani masala, coriander and cumin and cook, stirring, 1 minute. Add chicken with any accumulated juices and coconut milk, broth, chiles, cinnamon, cloves, star anise and black currants, then cover and adjust heat to a simmer. Turn chicken once, and braise until cooked through, about 20-25 minutes.

Transfer chicken to plate with tongs and boil sauce gently, stirring occasionally, until thickened, about 5 minutes. Discard cinnamon stick, cloves, and star anise and season sauce with salt. Serve chicken over jasmine or basmati rice in shallow soup bowls, topped by the sauce along with naan.

*Curry Powder:

2 dried red chili peppers
2 T coriander seeds
1 T cumin seeds
1/2 t mustard seeds
1/2 T black peppercorns
1 t ground ginger
1 t ground turmeric
1/2 t ground red pepper

In a small heavy skillet, combine the chile peppers, coriander, cumin, mustard seeds and peppercorns. Toast over medium heat, shaking the pan until slightly browned but not burned, 2-3 minutes. Cool and then ad to a spice grinder or coffee mill and grind to a fine powder. Stir in the ground ginger, turmeric and red pepper until well mixed.