Curried Red Lentil and Spinach Stew
This is a bit of a riff on the chana dal recipe in my first cookbook, From Scratch. Chana dal is one of my favorite meals of all time. But the lentils you use for chana dal are large and can take up to 2 hours to cook so I rarely take the time to make it. This version of curried red lentil and spinach stew is much faster and a little lighter without the cream. So this is as the easy, fast, summery version of chana dal for when you don’t feel like tending a pot for a couple of hours. This makes a pretty big batch, but you could easily double it and keep it for meals throughout the week or freeze leftovers.
This version simply uses prepared curry powder, which is a blend of common South Asian spices like cumin, coriander, turmeric, red chilies and sometimes cardamom and cloves. Curry powder is a shortcut for anyone looking to start cooking South Asian cuisine, but might not want to buy all the spices yet. If you like it, consider buying the spices separately. To me, the key to the most flavorful curries is to use whole spices (like cumin and coriander) at the beginning and toast them in the pan with the onions, then add in the other vegetables and the powdered spices. The toasted whole spices add incredible depth of flavor.
But try this version and see if you want to invest in a spicier future 🙂
I use spinach here as the green, but mustard greens, kale or chard will work well also. Frozen spinach is so convenient, but it’s wonderful with fresh, and you can get great spinach at the farmers market right now.
Lastly, if you want this to be a little creamier, add a splash of coconut milk or cream at the end.
I LOVE this stew. I close my eyes when I eat it. It’s that good, and doing it this quick way gets it in my life more often.
- 2 Tbsp butter
- 1 onion chopped
- 4 cloves garlic chopped
- 1 Tbsp ginger grated (use frozen)
- 3 Tbsp curry powder
- 16 oz tomatoes pureed
- 1 lb split red lentils (the small ones that are fast cooking)
- 6 cups water
- 8 oz spinach frozen (or 1 bunch of fresh, chopped)
- salt to taste
- fresh cilantro to taste, chopped
- Melt the butter in a pot on medium high heat. Add the onion and cook, stirring occasionally until translucent. Sprinkle the onion with 1/2 tsp salt. This will help it cook evenly and release its juices. Add the garlic and cook for another five minutes, until everything is soft and a light brown. Add a little water to the pot if the onions are sticking to the bottom too much.
- Add the ginger and curry powder and stir. (Tip: Keep your ginger in the freezer, it makes it really easy to grate and add to dishes like this.) Add some more salt to taste. Add the the pureed tomato and cook for about five minutes until the tomato is cooked and begins to separate from the butter (you can see this around the edges of the pan usually).
- Add the lentils and water and bring the stew to a boil. Turn the heat down to low and let it simmer with a lid slightly askew for 20 to 30 minutes until the lentils are cooked through. Add the spinach and stir until it is wilted and incorporated. Cook for about 5 more minutes if using frozen. If using fresh once the spinach is wilted it's ready.
- Taste the stew and add salt and fresh cilantro or any other seasonings according to your taste.
Tell me what you think!