When I was in college, I would often end up cooking dinner at friends’ apartments using whatever they had on hand,which always seemed to be curry powder, a can of something, and an old onion. Something from nothing,these meals hit the spot in the most nourishing of ways. It felt as though even if we didn’t know what we were doing with our lives in the long run, we could have the immediate comfort of something warm and homemade for dinner. This dish, almost like a thick soup or a dal of sorts, is an ode to those nights when my friends and I drank wine from a box and stayed up late watching Strangers with Candy on our hand-me-down televisions. Note that this is also completely vegan (just skip the yogurt when you serve the lentils). The small victory here is not only making something healthful and easy on the cheap, it’s also about the first step of the dish; toasting spices in oil allows them to bloom and make themselves known. I always think of dried spices as sleeping in the cupboard. When they hit hot oil, they wake up. You’ll find that almost any dish made with spices is better if you can take a moment to warm and reinvigorate them.
3 Tbsp extra-virgin olive oil 1 Tbsp minced peeled freshginger 2 garlic cloves, minced
1 shallot, minced
1/2 tsp ground coriander 1 tsp cumin seeds or ground cumin
1 tsp ground turmeric
1 cup [180 g] split red lentils One 131/2-oz [398-ml] can full-fat coconut milk, shaken Kosher salt
Cooked basmati rice, plain yogurt, and chopped fresh cilantro for serving
In a large saucepan over medium heat, warm the olive oil.Add the ginger, garlic, shallot, coriander, cumin, and turmeric and cook, stirring now and then, until the vegetables are softened and the spices are very fragrant,about 10 minutes. Add the lentils, coconut milk, and 2 tsp salt, then fill the empty coconut-milk can with water and add that to the saucepan. It will look like a lot of liquid, but the lentils will absorb it as they cook. Stir everything together, turn the heat to high, and bring the mixture to a boil. Turn the heat to low and let the lentils simmer, stirring now and then, until they’re completely soft, about 20minutes. Season to taste with salt.
Serve the lentils hot over rice. Top each serving with a spoonful of yogurt and a sprinkle of cilantro.
FOR VEGETABLE AND/OR CHICKEN CURRY, substitute1 lb [455 g] chopped vegetables (such as cauliflower,carrots, potatoes, peas, or anything, really) and/or cubes of boneless chicken thighs or breasts for the lentils. Feel free to brown the chicken first for added flavor.Everything else stays the same.
FOR AN EASY THAI-STYLE CURRY, keep the lentils or substitute 1 lb [455 g] vegetables, shrimp, chicken, or tofu. Leave out the cumin and add a minced chile pepper along with the garlic and ginger. When you add the coconut milk and water, also add the stems from a handful of fresh cilantro (discard these later), and finish the dish with a splash of fish sauce. Serve with lime wedges, Sriracha, and cilantro leaves.