Hooray! I have finally befriended the lentil. I’ve wanted us to be friends for so, so long. There were glimpses of hope in the past. Dylan makes a mean lentil soup from The New Best Recipe and I still recall a particularly tasty vegetarian lentil dish our friend Marie-Helene whipped up one night for a dinner party. Unfortunately, she has no recollection of it and is one of those enviable cooks who works by touch and taste, rather than by recipe. Left to my own devices, I’ve had a pretty dismal track record with lentils, highlighted by a couple of discouragingly mushy salads. Well no more.
Breaking my string of misses with the lentil was another winner from the Thanksgiving edition of the New York Times food section. Usually there’s maybe one recipe I want to try from among the bunch. On a meat-heavy week there might be none. But that week (when I first made this dish and wrote this post), I was in heaven- a trio of vegetarian main dishes, mashed potatoes, an apple pie, a cranberry tart, and an indulgent recipe for brussels sprouts had me debating what to try first. Deciding that the corn bread and broccoli rabe strata was going to be my big Thanksgiving contribution (blogged here a couple weeks ago), I decided to start with Melissa Clark’s recipe for curried lentils with sweet potatoes and swiss chard. (Yeah, I’m a little behind on my posts, perhaps…)
You’d think I’d have given up on lentils by now, decided that life is too short to keep making something that’s just no good, but the thought didn’t even cross my mind. And thank goodness I seem to have a short memory when it comes to these things, because these lentils were simply delicious. In fact, I’d already had a bowl of soup for dinner, but decided to taste a little of the lentils before packing them up for lunches and dinners later in the week. Fast forward 15 minutes and the tupperwares were all dutifully packed and stacked in the fridge while I sat on the floor with a spoon and the pot, happily scraping the last of the lentils up while watching What Not to Wear.
This dish isn’t about to win any beauty pageants and I don’t think I’d ever suggest it as Thanksgiving food, unless you were going for an Indian-themed Thanksgiving (and no, I don’t mean Native American); these lentils could have be straight out of your favorite Indian restaurant. But as an everyday meal with a little oomph and lots of nutrient rich ingredients, I was pleasantly surprised at just how tasty this dish turned out.
Curried lentils with sweet potatoes and swiss chard (serves 6 as a main, 8-10 as a side)
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 medium onion, chopped
4 garlic cloves, minced
1 1-inch piece fresh ginger root, peeled and grated
1 1/2 teaspoons garam masala (I substituted chana masala)
1 1/2 teaspoons curry powder
1 jalapeño pepper, seeded if desired, then minced
4 to 5 cups vegetable broth as needed (I used chicken broth)
2 pounds orange-fleshed sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into 1/2-inch cubes (about 4 cups)
1 1/2 cups dried lentils
1 bay leaf
1 pound Swiss chard, center ribs removed, leaves thinly sliced (I used 2 big bunches)
1 teaspoon kosher salt, more to taste
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
1/3 cup chopped fresh cilantro
Finely grated zest of 1 lime
Juice of 1/2 lime
1/3 cup finely chopped tamari almonds, for garnish (optional), available in health food stores
1/4 cup chopped scallions, for garnish
1. In large saucepan, heat oil over medium heat. Add onion and sauté until translucent, 5 to 7 minutes. Add garlic, ginger, garam masala, curry powder and jalapeño. Cook, stirring, for 1 minute.
2. Stir in 4 cups broth, sweet potatoes, lentils and bay leaf. Increase heat to high and bring to a boil; reduce heat to medium, partially cover, and simmer for 25 minutes. (If lentils seem dry, add up to 1 cup stock, as needed.) Stir in chard and salt and pepper, and continue cooking until lentils are tender and chard is cooked, about 30 to 45 minutes total.
3. Just before serving, stir in cilantro, lime zest and juice. Spoon into a large, shallow serving dish. Garnish with almonds if desired and scallions.