Sunday, March 4, 2012

Some Nice Spice

Sometimes mellow and comforting and what you need on an icy cold, cloudy day, and sometimes you need a kick from spice. I've had both moments -- when a bowl of oats can soothe the soul, and when some tangy lemon is in order to shake things up. Lately, it's been the latter. The mix of chilly and balmy, wet and damp and overcast and sunny is making my mood and taste buds do flips and twirls. The other day, we wanted some serious spice and flavour to jazz up our dinner, and the first thing that always comes to my mind is a nice spicy curry.

I love curry. It's one of the flavours I grew up with and still cherish to this day. No one makes better curry than my Dad, so I've stopped trying to compare. I've also stopped trying to mimic the flavour of his curries and started to experiment with stuff he never did. My Dad's curry is usually chicken-based, with lots of ginger, onions and coconut milk. I tend to do veggie curries and mix my Malaysian curry spice with other yummies like cumin, coriander, and lately cinnamon and cardamom. I was inspired by this beautiful, creamy black lentil dish, and thought I'd do a little experimenting.

There were no black lentils to be found at my grocery store, so I settled for green ones, which worked fine. I added crushed fennel seeds and dried chili to my spice mix of Malaysian curry powder, cardamom, cinnamon, cumin, coriander and smoked paprika. The added yogurt made all the difference, as did the 45 minutes that the dish spent getting creamy and yummy in the oven. I served this beautiful dish up alongside a rice pilaf inspired by this one -- the zatar spice really makes a difference! I think it's the addition of sesame seeds in the spice mix that makes it so delicious, so if you can't get a hold of this beautiful mix, use a combination of cumin, cardamom, coriander and toasted sesame seeds.

The ingredient list for this meal is pretty big, and that may be a turn off, but don't be alarmed. Both rice and lentil dishes are super easy to prepare once you have all the spices down, and you'll be rewarded with a wonderfully flavourful and comforting supper. It's pretty chilly out today, and although the sun is shining a little, an evening spend stirring spices doesn't sound too bad at all.

Creamy Baked Lentils with Rice Pilaf
serves lots!
inspired by Food, Football and a Baby, and KitchenLab

For the lentils:

1 cup of green lentils, rinsed thoroughly,
2.5 cups of water
1 bay leaf
5 cardamom pods, crushed

1/2 teaspoon of fennel seeds
1 dried chilli
1 teaspoon of ground cumin
1 teaspoon of Malaysian curry powder
1/2 teaspoon of ground coriander
1/4 teaspoon of smoked paprika
1/4 teaspoon of ground cardamom
1/4 teaspoon of ground cinnamon
1 medium carrot, diced
1 small onion, diced
1/2 inch bit of ginger, minced
2 cloves of garlic, minced
1 cup of water
1/2 small can of tomato paste
1/2 cup of plain yogurt (I used 2% -- skim yogurt tends to get water when you bake it)
salt and pepper to taste

1. Crush of the cardamom pods and place them in a pot with the water, bay leaf and lentils. Bring to a boil, and then simmer, covered until the lentils are tender. Drain and set aside.

2. Using a mortar and pestle, crush up the dried chilli and fennel seeds. Mix them with the rest of the spices and set aside. Alternately, you could use whole spices and grind everything in a coffee grinder. Your call.

3. In an oven safe pot or dutch oven, saute the carrot and onion in some olive oil for about 5 minutes, or until things start to get soft and fragrant. Season with salt and pepper. Add the garlic and ginger and cook for another minute.

4. Add in all your spices and stir so they toast. When things start to stick to the bottom, add the tomato paste and water and stir well, making sure to scrape the bottom. Add the lentils and give it a nice big mix.

5. Add in the yogurt and stir well. Bring the mixture to a simmer. Cover and bake in a 350 degree oven for about 45 minutes.

Now make the rice!

For the rice pilaf:

1 small onion,
1/4 inch bit of ginger
1/2 cup of basmati rice, rinsed
1/4 cup of yellow split peas rinsed
1 teaspoon of zatar spice mix
4 cardamom pods, crushed
1 1/4 cup of vegetable stock or water
1/2 bunch of spinach, washed and chopped
salt and pepper to taste

1. In a pot, saute the onion in olive oil for about 3-4 minutes. Add the ginger and season with salt and pepper. Add the zatar spice mix and stir so it gets toasty.

2. Add in the rice and split peas and mix well so that everything gets coated with the spicyness. Add in the water or stock, and the cardamom pods and bring the mixture to a boil. Reduce the heat, and cook, covered for 15-20 minutes, or until the rice and peas are tender and all the water is absorbed.

3. Stir in the spinach, turn off the heat and let it stand, covered for about 5 minutes.

4. Yum! We're done! Serve the rice with the lentils and pat yourself on the back. Oh! And careful of the cardamom pods!

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