Tuesday, October 14, 2008

City Kitchen Chronicles: Curried Apple & Lentil Dal

City Kitchen Chronicles is a bi-weekly column about living frugally in Manhattan. It's penned by the lovely Jaime.

Two of my best friends are brother and sister. Is that weird? That I’m part of a trio that’s two-thirds siblings? J and I became friends freshman year of college, and two years later his little sister, K, joined us at school. She spent lots of time at our apartment senior year, and the three of us were even roommates for a year after K graduated and joined us in the city. J and I lived together, plus a revolving door of third roommates of which K was the last, for four years starting senior year of college, until we each moved into our own NYC apartments.

These days, K and J live five blocks apart in Harlem, and I’m just a few subway stops farther up the island. We spend a lot of time together, the comfortable time of roommates and, I guess, siblings, too, cooking dinner and watching TV at J’s apartment or going to the farmers market together on Saturdays.

Oh, also, their parents have a house in western Mass, with a gorgeous view and the most comfortable couch you ever parked your rear on for a long weekend. In the summer the house gets overtaken by relatives and their parents’ friends, but a weekend or two during the off-season every year, the three of us head north for some restorative lazing.

This weekend (yes, I just got back, and yes, I wish I were still there) K prodded us into some inspired activity – a hike (we hiked a mountain!) and apple-picking. Very autumnal, and very wonderful. K had been talking for months about making apple sauce, something I’d never done at home. Sure, I buy my sauce unsweetened and chemical-free, but I had no idea how substantial and delicious the simple homemade stuff is. Most of our half-bushel of apples went in there, and several went into a mountainous and serviceable-but-unexceptional pie, but I snagged two Macouns for a recipe I’ve been looking to try for a while.

Not that lack of apples had been stopping me, but this weekend seemed a good chance to cook dinner for my two friends. K often cooks these long weekends, but she was already heading up the apple sauce and pie. (And making a crust from scratch since all the supermarket crusts had non-veggie-Jaime-friendly lard.)

This recipe comes from a wonderful vegan blog that’s new to me and is quickly becoming a favorite. Its title isn’t, um, family friendly, and the language skews that way, too, but author lindyloo is smart, funny, and brings some great recipes. She’s the kind of writer that if she didn’t live half-way across the country, I’d want to hunt her down and make her my friend. So I’ll just resign myself to enjoying her writing and her recipes.

This lentil curry, or dal, sparked my interest not for its glamour shot, as lentils are maybe the least photogenic food in the world. No, it was nothing so shallow as that. These lentils called to me with their simple recipe, the combination of familiar ingredients and new flavors (I’ve never actually cooked a curry dish before), the health and cheapness, and, oh, right, the apples. Apple curry! I’m a big fan of fruit in savory dishes – I will put pineapple in anything – but this combination was new. I had no idea what to expect, but it sounded awesome, and then – score! – it was.

I cooked these up with a side of garlicky swiss chard, and it made for a delicious meal for three happily tired friends. The apples add a sweetness that blends brilliantly with the cardamom and cinnamon in the garam masala, and the lentils are rich and filling with very little fat. You can serve this over brown rice or top with a blob (sorry, a dollop) of plain yogurt. Note that it takes the lentils a long time to cool to non-mouth-burning after being cooked. (I outdorked even myself when I said at dinner, “Wow, these lentils have a high specific heat!”) So let them cool down a bit before you start trying to eat, but otherwise, enjoy!

Curried Apple & Lentil Dal
Adapted from Yeah, That Vegan S***

1 T olive oil
1 small onion, diced fine
4 cloves garlic, diced
1 T fresh ginger, minced
2 small apples (Mac-ish), diced
2 ½ t garam masala
a few good shakes curry powder (or replace the garam masala and curry powder with 2 T garam masala curry paste)
1 ½ c red lentils
2 c vegetable broth (or 2 c water with 2 t Better than Bouillon, which could be renamed “Cheaper than Broth”)
salt to taste (if your broth isn’t very salty, you’ll need this)

1) In a large pot, heat oil over medium-high heat. Add onion, garlic, and ginger. Cook until fragrant, stirring occasionally.

2) Add apples, garam masala, and curry powder (or paste). Stir.

3) Add lentils and broth and stir. Drop heat to low or medium-low and simmer uncovered "until lentils and apples are tender," around 25 minutes. If need be, add water so mixture won't dry out.

4) That's it. You're done.

Approximate Calories, Fat, and Price Per Serving
340 calories, 5 g fat, $.61

1 T olive oil: 120 calories, 14 g fat, $.08
1 small onion: 45 calories, 0 g fat, $.40
4 cloves garlic: 18 calories, 0 g fat, $.08
1 T fresh ginger: 5 calories, 0 g fat, $.05
2 small apples: 144 calories, 0 g fat, $.40
2 ½ t garam masala: negligible calories and fat, $.25
a few good shakes curry powder: negligible calories and fat, $.05
1 ½ c red lentils: 1020 calories, 6 g fat, $.75
2 t Better than Bouillon: 10 calories, 0 g fat, $.37
salt to taste: negligible calories and fat, $.02
TOTAL: 1362 calories, 20 g fat, $2.45
PER SERVING (Total/4): 340 calories, 5 g fat, $.61


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