Weeknight Indian Hot Pot

The recent chill in the air has me hankering for a hot meal. A steaming pot of something - soup, stew, curry - it doesn't matter as long I can tuck into a bowl and eat with a spoon.

Although I've got a nice reliable stable of hot pot recipes for this time of year, I'm always looking for more ways to fire up the belly. The challenge for many cooks, including myself, is hot-potting during the week; if the dish takes longer than an hour, start to finish, it probably will have to wait until the weekend when there's more time to play at the stove.


Indian hot pot in less than an hour. (Kim O'Donnel)


As the sun did its last dance yesterday around five, I began leafing through the pages of "Madhur Jaffrey's Quick and Easy Indian Cooking," an oldie but goodie (it has just been reprinted and redesigned) by the renowned Indian cooking doyenne. My finger stopped at page 60, where I found the details for "Chicken, Red Lentils and Green Beans in One Pot." In addition to the three headlined ingredients, the recipe calls for a laundry list of aromatic seasonings commonly found in Indian cookery - turmeric, plus a "C" of spices: cardamom pods, cayenne, cinnamon stick, cloves, coriander and cumin, both ground and in seed form. It also suggests the addition of asafetida, an extremely pungent and stinky resin that has purported magical qualities.

I was fortunate enough to have all of these spices on hand, which made preparation "easy" as Jaffrey's title promises. However, if your pantry is missing two or three items on the list, this "one pot" dish is not something you'll likely whip up by the seat of your pants during the week.

Jaffrey gets props, though, for creating such a complex, multi-dimensioned dish that takes just under one hour to make. Initially, I was skeptical, so I kept track of the time and was both stunned and delighted that in 55 minutes, I had on the table one of the most flavorful hot pots I can remember.

In the recipe below, I share notes that should help guide you throughout the process. Rather than green beans, I chose something more in keeping with the season - cool weather, quick cooking greens such as chard or spinach. I also discovered that the chicken, although delicious, would not have been missed. This is a testament to the depth of flavor (and the method behind the madness) of all those spices talking to one another in the pot. Should you decide on a meatless version, simply omit the chicken but retain the first step of toasting spices.

I served this with rice, but again, the dish held well on its own. We were happy to share a piece of warmed naan that I found in the freezer.

The best thing about this dish is the second-day flavor quotient, which means amazing lunch-style leftovers for the cook.

Today is chat day; join me at noon for What's Cooking.

Chicken, Red Lentils and Green Beans in One Pot

Adapted from Madhur Jaffrey's Quick and Easy Indian Cooking

Ingredients
6 tablespoons vegetable oil
3 bay leaves
5 whole cloves
6 cardamom pods
2-inch stick cinnamon
3 dried chiles
2 pounds chicken pieces, skinned and cut into smaller serving portions (a pair of breasts into 4 to 6 pieces each or whole legs into 2 to 3 pieces each)
1 2/3 cups red lentils (masoor dal), washed and drained
½ teaspoon ground turmeric
2 teaspoons salt
ground black pepper to taste
1 ½ teaspoons store-bought garam masala
1 ½ tablespoons fresh lemon juice (about ½ lemon)
6 ounces green beans, trimmed and cut into 1-inch lengths (KOD note: I substituted ½ bunch trimmed spinach leaves)
Generous pinch asafetida (optional)
1 ½ teaspoons cumin seeds
1 small onion, peeled and cut into thin half moons
2 cloves garlic, peeled and finely chopped
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon ground coriander
1/8-1/4 teaspoon cayenne (optional)
12 cherry tomatoes, cut into halves or 1 medium tomato, diced

Method
Place a heavy-bottomed deep skillet or soup pot over high heat and add 3 tablespoons of the oil. When oil is hot, add bay leaves, cloves, cardamom pods, cinnamon stick and dried chiles. Stir once or twice until bay leaf starts to darken. Quickly add chicken pieces in a single layer and brown on both sides. Remove from pot, leaving spices and oil behind. Turn off heat and add 5 cups of water and turmeric, scraping bottom of pot to loosen any bits that are stuck. Then add lentils, and turn on heat to high and bring up to a simmer. Cover partially and cook gently for 20 minutes (KOD note: This took more like 12-15 minutes.).

Meanwhile, sprinkle ½ teaspoon of the salt, black pepper to taste, ½ teaspoon of the garam masala and lemon juice on the chicken, making sure it's covering both sides of the chicken. When lentils are tender, add, chicken and its accumulated juices, green beans (KOD note: wait if you're using spinach or another tender green) and 1 ½ teaspoons salt. Stir and bring to a simmer. Cover, turn down heat to low and cook for an additional 20 minutes (KOD note: I took it down to 15 minutes), stirring occasionally.

Two minutes before chicken and lentils are ready (KOD: I translated this as five minutes before serving - this is also when I added spinach), heat the remaining three tablespoons of oil in a medium frying pan over high heat. When oil is hot, add asafetida (if using), followed immediately by cumin seeds. Add onion and fry until it turns brown at the edges. Add garlic. Stir and dry until onion had turned brown. Add ground cumin and coriander, one remaining teaspoon of garam masala and cayenne (if using). Stir to combine, then add tomatoes, stir for a quick half minute, and pour entire mixture into pot with chicken and lentils. Stir to mix, and serve immediately.

Makes four to six servings.

Chicken, Red Lentils and Green Beans in One Pot
Adapted from Madhur Jaffrey's Quick and Easy Indian Cooking

Ingredients
6 tablespoons vegetable oil
3 bay leaves
5 whole cloves
6 cardamom pods
2-inch stick cinnamon
3 dried chiles
2 pounds chicken pieces, skinned and cut into smaller serving portions (a pair of breasts into 4 to 6 pieces each or whole legs into 2 to 3 pieces each)
1 2/3 cups red lentils (masoor dal), washed and drained
½ teaspoon ground turmeric
2 teaspoons salt
ground black pepper to taste
1 ½ teaspoons store-bought garam masala
1 ½ tablespoons fresh lemon juice (about ½ lemon)
6 ounces green beans, trimmed and cut into 1-inch lengths (KOD note: I substituted ½ bunch trimmed spinach leaves)
Generous pinch asafetida (optional)
1 ½ teaspoons cumin seeds
1 small onion, peeled and cut into thin half moons
2 cloves garlic, peeled and finely chopped
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon ground coriander
1/8-1/4 teaspoon cayenne (optional)
12 cherry tomatoes, cut into halves or 1 medium tomato, diced

Method
Place a heavy-bottomed deep skillet or soup pot over high heat and add 3 tablespoons of the oil. When oil is hot, add bay leaves, cloves, cardamom pods, cinnamon stick and dried chiles. Stir once or twice until bay leaf starts to darken. Quickly add chicken pieces in a single layer and brown on both sides. Remove from pot, leaving spices and oil behind. Turn off heat and add 5 cups of water and turmeric, scraping bottom of pot to loosen any bits that are stuck. Then add lentils, and turn on heat to high and bring up to a simmer. Cover partially and cook gently for 20 minutes (KOD note: This took more like 12-15 minutes.).

Meanwhile, sprinkle ½ teaspoon of the salt, black pepper to taste, ½ teaspoon of the garam masala and lemon juice on the chicken, making sure it's covering both sides of the chicken. When lentils are tender, add, chicken and its accumulated juices, green beans (KOD note: wait if you're using spinach or another tender green) and 1 ½ teaspoons salt. Stir and bring to a simmer. Cover, turn down heat to low and cook for an additional 20 minutes (KOD note: I took it down to 15 minutes), stirring occasionally.

Two minutes before chicken and lentils are ready (KOD: I translated this as five minutes before serving - this is also when I added spinach), heat the remaining three tablespoons of oil in a medium frying pan over high heat. When oil is hot, add asafetida (if using), followed immediately by cumin seeds. Add onion and fry until it turns brown at the edges. Add garlic. Stir and dry until onion had turned brown. Add ground cumin and coriander, one remaining teaspoon of garam masala and cayenne (if using). Stir to combine, then add tomatoes, stir for a quick half minute, and pour entire mixture into pot with chicken and lentils. Stir to mix, and serve immediately.

Makes four to six servings.

By Kim ODonnel |  October 30, 2007; 10:39 AM ET Chicken/Poultry , Hot Pot
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Comments

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I use asefatida powder that isn't sticky, but despite it's really strange taste I sort of see using it or not... it doesn't make much difference to the dish.

Posted by: DCer | October 30, 2007 11:32 AM

Isn't asefatida supposed to make beans and such easier to digest?

Posted by: Fran | October 30, 2007 11:47 AM

mmm, I might have to try this without the chicken. Do you know how much water you used (about?) Or did you just pour some in, scrape the pot, and add the lentils and adjust water?

Posted by: eggplant | October 30, 2007 11:55 AM

I love Madhur Jaffrey. Do you have a way of veggifying this dish?

Posted by: Karen | October 30, 2007 2:26 PM

Eggplant: I used five cups of water as called for in the recipe, and it was just enough.

Karen: Yes, I mention that the chicken is almost superfluous and could definitely be omitted. Read through recipe for details.

Posted by: Kim O'Donnel | October 30, 2007 2:32 PM

Thanks Kim. I don't think the water made it into the ingredient list, so thanks for the follow up.

Posted by: Eggplant | October 30, 2007 2:43 PM

Regarding the optional use of asafetida. From Wikipedia:

"Asafoetida has also been reported to have contraceptive/abortifacient activity, and is related (and considered an inferior substitute to) the ancient Ferula species Silphium. It has been reported in human tests as both a contraceptive as well as an abortifacient.[2]"

A heads up to those ladies who may be pregnant, let this ingredient remain truly optional.

Posted by: Cat | November 8, 2007 12:55 PM

We have used asafetida always but never heard about its contraceptive/ abortifacient activity. You always learn something.
I like to submit a recipe for one pot of lentils with spinach for the vehetarians. It is from my cookbook 'Recipes with a Spice - Indian Cuisine for Balanced Nutrition.
SPINACH DAL
This 'dal', of semi-liquid consistency, is served with bread and rice. Serve it hot with a dash of butter. It can be refrigerated or frozen.
1 cup Mung split green & yellow dal with peel
½ cup Chana yellow dal
2 cups chopped spinach
1 chopped tomato
1 tablespoon oil
Seasonings:
1 teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon turmeric powder ½ teaspoon cumin seeds
½ teaspoon caraway seeds
1 teaspoon crushed garlic
½ chopped onion
½ teaspoon crushed ginger
½ teaspoon coriander powder
½ teaspoon red chili powder
1 teaspoon crushed green chili
1 teaspoon garam masala

Garnish: ½ teaspoon lemon juice (optional)
1. Mix the 'dals' and check for grit; rinse a couple of times and drain.
2. Bring to boil about 4 cups water in a 3-quart pan. Add 'dals' to hot water. Stir in salt and turmeric powder. (Water can boil over when 'dal' is added; lower the heat as needed.)
3. Partially cover and simmer on medium heat until 'dal' is almost cooked (about 40 minutes). (Add more hot water depending on the consistency desired.)
4. Add chopped spinach to the cooked 'dal'; let cook for about 10 minutes until everything is well mixed.
5. To sauté, heat the oil in a small skillet on medium heat. Add cumin and caraway seeds; as soon as they change color (few seconds), add garlic and onions. When the onions are golden brown, stir in tomatoes and remaining seasonings (except garam masala) and cook for a couple of minutes.
6. Mix the sautéed seasonings into the cooked 'Spinach Dal'. Continue cooking on medium heat for about 5 minutes until 'dal' is thickened. Add garam masala. Serve hot, optionally sprinkled with lemon juice.
Variation: Use peeled yellow Mung or peeled light yellow Urad dal (or a mix of them). They take little less water and only 20-30 minutes to cook.
Note: Spinach can be added along with the saute if you like.
Makes about 8 servings, ¾ cup each. Per serving -
Nutritive Value: 158 calories, 9 g protein, 25 g carb, 5 g fiber, 3 g fat, 0 mg chol.
Food Group Exchange: 1 Legumes/Meat, ½ Vegetable, 1/8 Fat.

Posted by: kusum | November 8, 2007 8:23 PM

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