Saturday, February 8, 2014

Lentil and Sweet Potato Stew - What is curry powder?

With the new year well underway we are all watching what we eat and trying to be more healthy. This is a great winter stew that is completely vegetarian, flavorful and filling. Each dinner portion has only about 350 calories, but you will go away with your appetite satisfied, especially if you pair it with a salad and a crusty piece of bread. I got the original recipe from Martha Stewart Living and have since made some minor variations.

Julian's Lentil and Sweet Potato Stew with Garden Salad
Lentils are the basis for this stew. If you haven't cooked with them before they are ideal as they don't require pre-soaking and cook quickly, unlike other legumes. There are plenty of hearty winter vegetables and an Indian curry seasoning, which warms the heart without being overpowering.

If my use of the word 'curry' has confused or scared you, don't worry. I'm talking here about seasoning, not a traditional Indian curry dish, which is generally understood to mean vegetables or meat cooked with spices in a gravy. Curry is the anglicised word from the Tamil word kari or kori (கறி) meaning 'sauce'.  Kari was commercialized by the British East India Company in the mid-17th century where it found the flavors along the coast of southeast India. Here, they became familiar with a spice blend used for making kari dishes called kari podi or curry powder. So the term went from meaning a sauce to a spice blend, as this was the business of the British East India Company. You can purchase curry powder as a pre-made spice or you can make your own using the recipe below. Note when purchasing curry powder that there is no standard formula, so different brands will use somewhat difference spice mixtures and quantities. The most classic ingredients are shown below.

Curry Seasoning
2 tablespoons cumin seeds
2 tablespoons cardamom seeds, toasted
2 tablespoons coriander seeds, toasted
1/4 cup ground turmeric
1 tablespoon dry mustard
1 teaspoon cayenne

You may combine and use the above as needed in your recipes. I prefer a powder as is most commonly purchased, so I crush the above using my mortar and pestle. This is however, not necessary if you don't mind some larger pieces of the spices in your finished dish.

Ingredients (serves six)
2 tablespoons canola or vegetable oil
1 medium onion, chopped
2 carrots, peeled and chopped
2 celery stalks, chopped
1 bay leaf
1 garlic clove, minced
2-3 teaspoons curry powder
16 ounces dried brown lentils, rinsed
2 sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into cubes
8-10 ounces fresh green beans
1 15 ounce can diced tomatoes with their juices
1/2 cup chopped fresh cilantro
salt and pepper, to taste
low-fat yogurt for serving

Clean, chop and measure vegetables and spices as noted on the ingredient list above.

In a large saucepan,heat oil over medium-high heat.  Add onion, carrots, celery and bay leaf.  Saute stirring often until vegetables are softened, about 5 minutes.  Add garlic and curry powder and cooking while stirring about one minute.

Add 7 cups water and the lentils and bring to a boil. Reduce to a low simmer, cover and cook 10 minutes. Add sweet potatoes and cook covered, until lentils and potatoes are just tender, about 15-20 minutes.

Stir in green beans and tomatoes with the juice. Cook until green beans are tender but still have a slight crunch, about 5 minutes. Discard the bay leaf and remove from heat. Stir in the chopped cilantro and season with salt and pepper to taste. Serve topped with a dollop of yogurt.

A big pot of Julian's delicious winter stew!

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