improvisational indian

This week is sneaking in under the wire: I worked from early Sunday morning until late Friday evening, which left almost no time for cooking. Or shopping. Which is why these recipes were based on what I already had in the kitchen.

Maybe because I’m more of a baker than a cook, I’ve always been one to follow recipes almost exactly. Not these. I started with two from Epicurious and changed them wantonly to reflect what ingredients I had — the French lentils and carrots from last week’s soup, a huge bag of potatoes hanging out in my cupboard, my Indian spices, a can of coconut milk I bought over the summer.

I’d make these again, and I’d hardly change a thing.

(To contradict what I just said… Next time, I’d amp up the spices in both of these dishes. Maybe my spices are approaching their expiration date — I did buy them more than a year ago — or maybe my surprising development into a person who likes spicy food is affecting my palate. The potatoes especially could use a bit more kick.)

Coconut-Puy Lentil Curry

adapted from Coconut Red-Lentil Curry, Gourmet, December 2006. Serves 4.

1 medium onion, chopped
2 carrots, diced
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon finely chopped peeled ginger (tip: freeze the ginger and grate it with a Microplane; no need to peel, and it will keep till the apocalypse)
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
1 teaspoon ground cumin
½ teaspoon ground coriander
¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 teaspoon turmeric
1 teaspoon salt
1 ½ cups French (Puy) lentils, picked over and rinsed
1 14-ounce can coconut milk (I used light because it was what I had, but regular would probably be better)
2 ½ cups water
2 tablespoons lemon juice or amchoor powder (I’m probably the only person who said, looking at this recipe, “Hmm, I don’t have lemon juice, but I do have amchoor [dried green mango] powder!” I use it for chana masala, but have more than I need and am always looking for new places to put it.)

In a heavy-bottomed large saucepan or Dutch oven, heat the oil over medium-high heat. Add the onion and carrots and cook until softened and the onions are beginning to brown, about 6 minutes. Add the garlic and ginger; cook, stirring, for 1 minute. Add the spices and cook another minute.

Stir in water, coconut milk and lentils, and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer, covered, at least 30 minutes, or until lentils are soft and flavors are combined. Just before serving, stir in the lemon juice or amchoor powder.

Indian-Spiced Potatoes

From Bon Appétit. Serves 2, so double (and use a big skillet) if you want enough to go with the soup all week.

1 tablespoon olive oil
3 garlic cloves, finely chopped
2 teaspoons peeled ginger, minced (or see note above on freezing)
¼ teaspoon turmeric (see note above — next time I’d double)
¼ teaspoon paprika (same)
¼ teaspoon ground coriander (same)
2 small russet or large Yukon gold potatoes, cut into ½-inch cubes
1½ cups chicken broth
1 tablespoon lemon juice or amchoor powder

Heat oil in large nonstick skillet over medium heat. Add the garlic and ginger, and cook 3 minutes. Add spices and cook an additional minute. Add potatoes; pour over broth. Cover and simmer 8 minutes, or until potatoes are soft. Remove lid and boil, uncovered, until the chicken broth has reduced to a glaze. Add lemon juice or amchoor powder and stir. Salt and pepper to taste.

I served the lentils on the potatoes with Trader Joe’s frozen paratha on the side (which is really excellent, plus it’s fun to toss it around in the hot pan while it’s defrosting) and then mixed it all up to eat. I had no cilantro, which was recommended as a garnish for both, but garnished with a dollop of Greek yogurt.