This time of year it’s just tough to get inspired. Had my fill of root vegetables; how many ways can you prepare beets? Winter squash is just about done for the season. And the sweet potatoes I bought a few weeks ago are starting to sprout, as I just can’t get motivated to roast them. The worst of the winter is hopefully behind us, but spring and its bounty is still a ways away. Not much in season at the moment, at least here in Washington, D.C. Just a bit blah all around….gray skies included.
That being said, on a recent trip to Chicago, I restocked with some essentials (and some not-so-essentials) that are difficult to find here at home. First stop is always to the Spice House for an assortment of spices, including a Vadouvan curry blend and some unique chile flakes called Urfa Biber (a rich, smoky, raisiny Turkish chile) that caught my attention. Oh, along with fresh masa for making tortillas, dried hominy, Chinese dried (‘facing heaven’) chiles, coffee from my new favorite Chicago roaster, a loaf of dark rye and a few other odds and ends (including a few quirky t-shirts from here to add to my collection). Quite the eclectic assortment of finds. I always pack light to ensure I have enough room in my bag for culinary treasures.
The Vadouvan curry mix, rainbow chard, and some red lentils I had on-hand fueled my inspiration for today’s dish. Vadouvan is a French interpretation of an Indian Masala called vadavam, from the Pondicherry region of southern India where French colonial influence is still felt. There are many versions of curry, but this French twist typically includes toasted shallots, onions, and garlic. Here’s a good recipe if you want to make your own Vadouvan blend.
The red lentils are spruced up with an assortment of spices, including coriander, cumin, cayenne, and turmeric (along with the Vadouvan), in addition to onion, garlic, ginger, coconut milk, and canned tomatoes. A simple, homey, deeply satisfying dish that’s just perfect for a gray day like today…
Stay warm with a bowl of red lentil Vadouvan soup…
Red Lentil (Vadouvan) Curry Coconut Stew
2 tablespoons olive oil, coconut oil, or ghee
1 large onion, small dice
4 to 6 garlic cloves, minced
1 1/2 tablespoons fresh grated ginger
Sea salt to taste
2 teaspoons cumin seeds, lightly toasted and ground
2 teaspoons coriander seeds, lightly toasted and ground
3 to 4 tablespoons of Indian curry spice blend, depending on spice blend (used a Vadouvan spice blend)
1/2 teaspoon ground turmeric
1 (28-ounce) can chopped tomatoes with juices
1 pound red lentils, washed and picked over
2 quarts water, vegetable, or chicken stock
freshly ground black pepper to taste
Cayenne to taste
2 large handfuls, Swiss chard leaves, chopped
1 (14-ounce) can (full-fat) coconut milk
Juice of 1/2 lime
Cashews (toasted in a dry skillet until lightly browned), chopped
Heat the oil in a large soup pot over medium-high heat. Add the onion, cook, stirring until tender, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic, ginger, ½ teaspoon salt, ground cumin and coriander, curry powder, and turmeric, and stir until fragrant, 1 minute. Add the canned tomatoes with their juices. Taste and re-season with salt.
Stir in the lentils and water or stock. Bring to a boil, reduce heat, cover, and simmer for 40 minutes. Season with black pepper and cayenne to taste. Taste and adjust for salt.
Add the Swiss chard, coconut milk, and lime juice, and cook until the chard is wilted and the coconut milk heated through, about 2-3 minutes. Taste and reseason, if needed.
Ladle into individual bowls. Top with chopped cilantro and toasted chopped cashews. Serve with some crusty bread.
Note: Alternatively, you can garnish with toasted coconut flakes, sliced scallions, or chives.