One of the most unique wedding gifts that Paul and I received was a custom box of spices from his coworkers. (Thanks Kate and Ted!) The box came from Penzey’s Spices and was filled with glass bottles of thyme, smoked paprika, vanilla extract and other spices with cinnamon sticks, bay leaves and whole nutmeg nestled in between. It was one of my favorite gifts!
When Paul and I visited Michigan a month or so later, we actually saw a Penzey’s store and I made him go inside…and proceeded to purchase additional spices, including filé powder for my gumbo and the garam masala for this dish. Definitely check it out if you have a store near you.
Inspired by a recipe from Naturally Ella, this red lentil curry is spiced with whole coriander and cumin seeds, red pepper flakes, smoked paprika, fresh ginger, and crushed garlic in addition to the garam masala blend. However, you don’t have to stick to that exact mix–feel free to change it up and adjust the pepper to your tastes.
In an effort to lighten up the calorie count a bit, I use unsweetened almond milk blended with a bit of cornstarch to thicken it rather than coconut milk. If you prefer coconut milk, simply substitute a 15-oz can for the almond milk, cornstarch and water (you can add a little water to the lentils as they cook if necessary). I’m also including my recipe for Indian-spiced rice, below the curry.
Red lentil curry with a side of Indian-spiced rice.
- 1 ½ tsp cumin seeds
- 1 ½ tsp coriander seeds
- 1 tsp garam masala
- 2 tsp smoked paprika
- ½ tsp salt
- ¼ tsp red pepper flakes or more, to taste
- 2 garlic cloves, minced
- 1 1-inch piece of ginger, peeled and minced
- ½ large jalapeno pepper, chopped, about 2 tbsp
- 1 tbsp tomato paste
- 1 tbsp olive oil
- 1 medium onion, chopped
- 1 15-oz can diced tomatoes
- 1 cup almond milk
- 1 tsp cornstarch
- 1 cup water
- 1 cup red lentils, rinsed and picked over
- 2 cups spinach or baby kale
- Chopped cilantro or parsley, optional
- Scant ½ tsp each: coriander seeds, cumin seeds, fennel seeds, mustard seeds
- Pinch of saffron
- 1 ½ cups water
- Pinch of salt
- 1 cup basmati or long grain white rice
- Heat a small skillet over medium heat and add the cumin and coriander seeds. Toast them in the dry pan for 1-2 minutes until fragrant. Crush the seeds a bit with a mortar and pestle. (Or, place the spices in a zip-top bag and crush with a rolling pin.)
- Add the garam masala, paprika, salt, pepper, garlic, ginger, jalapeno and tomato paste and mash together, or pulse in a food processor.
- Heat the olive oil over medium-high heat in a Dutch oven or stock pot. Add the onion and sauté about 5 minutes, until softened and just beginning to brown.
- Add the spice mixture and cook, stirring constantly, about 2 minutes until fragrant.
- Pour in the tomatoes with their juices and stir, scraping up the brown bits on the bottom of the pan.
- Add the almond milk and cornstarch to a jar or container with a lid and shake until combined. Pour the mixture and the water into the pot and bring to a boil.
- Stir in the lentils. Reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer 35-45 minutes until tender.
- Stir in the spinach or kale and cook 2-3 minutes until wilted. Taste and adjust seasoning. Garnish with cilantro or parsley and serve with cooked rice.
- Combine the saffron and the water and let the mixture stand about 5 minutes so that the saffron can “bloom” (it’s ready when the water becomes yellowish).
- Meanwhile, heat a small skillet over medium heat and add the seeds. Toast in the dry pan for 1-2 minutes until fragrant.
- Combine all ingredients and prepare the rice according to package instructions. (I throw it all in the rice cooker but the stovetop works too!)
- Fluff with a fork and serve.