Meatless Monday: Super Cinchy Curried Potatoes

While in DC last week, I cooked dinner with my pal Liz Kelly, who shares my love for all things lentil-y. The gray cold weather last Tuesday had us craving something that would warm our bellies, so we decided to try out a recipe that’s been on my to-do list, from the new “660 Curries” by Raghavan Iyer.

In just 45 minutes, we had dinner on the table, but we agreed that if not for our kitchen gabfest, we probably could have pulled it all together in about a half hour. (The trick is to have a pot of lentils going while you prep the taters and the aromatics.)

(Kim O'Donnel)

I had little idea of what Iyer meant by a red lentil sauce and how it would translate at the table, thinking maybe this would make an interesting side dish. But something magical happens when the creamy lentil puree meets the starchy curried-up diced potatoes – it morphs into a hearty stew that feels like a one-bowl meal. The texture is so satisfying, with plenty of curried notes to keep the tongue engaged. This dish is a serious keeper!

Liz reports that it was even better for lunch the next day, and highly recommends experimenting with tamarind sauce as a dipping condiment (she likes Deep brand, which she found at an Indian grocery in Falls Church, Va.).

We heated up frozen naan for mopping up the gravy, but I could see a thin roti working here as well as a scoop of rice.

One-Pot Potatoes in a Red Lentil Sauce with Lime Juice
From "660 Curries" by Raghavan Iyer

1 cup red lentils
2 tablespoons canola oil
2 teaspoons cumin seeds
1 small red onion, finely chopped
1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh ginger
2 or 3 fresh green Thai, cayenne or serrano chiles, to taste, stemmed, finely chopped
1 pound russet or Yukon Gold potatoes, peeled, cut into 1/2-inch dice, submerged in a bowl of cold water to prevent browning
2 teaspoons coarse salt
2 teaspoons cumin seeds, ground
1 teaspoon coriander seeds, ground
1 teaspoon ground turmeric
1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh cilantro leaves
Juice of 1 medium lime

Place lentils in a medium saucepan. Fill pan halfway with water and rinse lentils by rubbing them between your fingertips. Water will become cloudy. Drain this water. Repeat three or four times, until water is relatively clear, and drain.

Add two cups water and bring to a boil, uncovered, over medium heat. Reduce heat to medium-low, cover pot and simmer, stirring occasionally, until lentils are tender, 10-12 minutes. Remove pan from heat.

While lentils are cooking, heat oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add cumin seeds and cook until they sizzle, turn reddish brown and are fragrant, 10-15 seconds. Add onion, ginger and chiles, and stirfry until onion is caramel brown, 8-10 minutes.

Drain potatoes and add them to skillet. Stir in salt, ground cumin, coriander, turmeric and cilantro. Stirfry to cook spices as they turn fragrant, 1-2 minutes. Add 1/2 cup water, scraping bottom of skillet to deglaze, releasing any collected bits of onion and spice. Reduce heat to medium-low, cover and cook, stirring occasionally, until potatoes are fork-tender, 8-10 minutes. (KOD note: The potatoes took closer to 20 minutes to get tender. One option is to parboil potatoes before adding to the skillet with spices.)

Puree lentils, using a blender, immersion blender or a whisk – a trick that Celebritologist and fellow lentil lover Liz Kelly shared with me. The red lentils are easily coaxed by a few turns of a whisk.

Pour this creamy blend over potatoes. Stir sauce into mixture allowing potatoes to absorb some of its flavors. Stir in lime just before serving.

Makes six servings.

By Kim ODonnel |  December 8, 2008; 7:00 AM ET Meatless Monday , Vegetarian/Vegan
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Looks good, and great timing. Everyone has been recommending curries for their health benefits--this fits the bill nicely.

Posted by: davemarks | December 8, 2008 7:30 AM

This is the second recipe I've seen recently calling for red lentils. Where on earth do I find red lentils, since my Giant doesn't appear to be obliging?

Posted by: capecodner424 | December 8, 2008 12:04 PM

Capecod - I've generally found them in smaller specialty markets (Asian or Indian)
or the big Asian supermarkets (we've got Grand Mart, H-Mart, and El Grande in No.Va.) If you're up in the Boston area, there's a number of small little markets where they can be found.


Posted by: FairlingtonBlade | December 8, 2008 12:38 PM

Whole Foods is one place that carries red lentils in the bulk food section.

Posted by: gypsy420 | December 8, 2008 12:41 PM

I want to make this tonight, but I only have brown lentils at home. Do you think I'd need to make any changes beyond cooking time to substitue the brown? The dish won't be as pretty, but do you think there are important flavor differences?

Posted by: esleigh | December 8, 2008 1:35 PM

This looks good. Could you play around with the spices? I have numerous curry blends as well as rogan josh and a few others...

Posted by: rlb16 | December 8, 2008 1:56 PM

I found red lentils in the organic foods section of our Big SuperDuper Market (we are not in Giant land, but the principle might hold). Our market carries green lentils with other dried beans near the rice... but red lentils with the organic foods, which I surmise is because the reds are the Bob's Red Mill brand. Good luck.

Kim: what does the turmeric do? I have enjoyed spicy dishes in the past, but have always had a... second day burn... from curries. I have wondered if it is the turmeric. Thanks.

Posted by: Agathist | December 8, 2008 3:04 PM

I found the red lentils at a local health-food store. One pound for $3.49. I'm going to make this. Meatless Monday! I have the potatoes, the lentils and the fresh ginger; everything else is either dried in a jar or will be improvised. Okay, call me cheap, but I couldn't bear to pay another dollar for some cilantro, so I'll use coriander.

Posted by: davemarks | December 8, 2008 4:41 PM

Agathist, the turmeric will give it color and will lend its own unique earthy flavor. There's not much called for in recipe...actually turmeric is considered very good for circulation, should not give a burn. wonder if it's the cayenne that's doing that to you?

Posted by: Kim ODonnel | December 8, 2008 5:02 PM

Davemarks, I think you'll really enjoy this! Keep me posted on your adventure.

Posted by: Kim ODonnel | December 8, 2008 5:04 PM

Rib16, the beauty of curry is just what you propose -- mixing things up and playing with flaovrs. Remember, curry powder is really a "masala" or a mixture of spices -- and you, my dear, are the masala master.

Posted by: Kim ODonnel | December 8, 2008 5:07 PM

esleigh, the brown lentils won't puree as readily, so be prepared for that (doubt that the whisking I mention in recipe would work). Flavor might be a little stronger, but I think you'll still have a very hearty, satisfying dish. Keep me posted on the improvisations.

Posted by: Kim ODonnel | December 8, 2008 5:15 PM

Okay, I made it. I had absolutely no idea what it would taste like, and I must say it's delicious.

Posted by: davemarks | December 8, 2008 6:35 PM

Davemarks, good for you! I'm on vacation in the Caribbean right now, and we've been talking about making some of these down here.

Posted by: Kim ODonnel | December 8, 2008 8:26 PM

We were having a friend over for dinner tonight and I planned to make Saag Paneer (technically, I make Methi Chaman with double spinach and halving the red pepper). So, I thought this would pair nicely with the spinach dish.

Oops. I didn't read the recipe close enough and didn't cover the lentils. They cooked fine, but pureed more to a consistency of mashed potatoes. I added some butter and added them gradually to the sauce.

I varied the recipe a bit by using leaving the cumin seeds whole
and using a couple of teaspoons of garam masala I had on hand. I also bhunao'd the spices (cooking the spices on high heat and adding just enough water to keep them from burning).

It's a pretty tasty dish, but I think in future I'd forgo the potatoes as they don't seem to work well for me in curries. Just personal preference.

Before I head off, I want to say that the stuffed pumpkin dish you posted a couple of weeks ago is the perfect thing for Thanksgiving leftovers. Use layers of stuffing, fresh cranberry sauce, and cheese. The cranberry sauce adds a bit of a tart kick that livens up the dish. I liked it with gorgonzola and bread, loved it with stuffing and cranberry sauce.


Posted by: FairlingtonBlade | December 8, 2008 11:37 PM

Kim -- I made this last night and it was absolutely delicious :) :) Thanks so much for posting about this recipe. Now I am wondering what other gems are in 660 Curries -- have you found any other gems in there?

Also -- hoping you will run curry week in the depths of winter when we all need warm dishes!

:) Valerie

Posted by: citygirllifestyle | December 14, 2008 3:40 PM

Hey Valerie, Iyer's book is huge. I have a friend who says he cooks from it all the time, and a vegetarian friend who bought it despite the meat chapters. I think it's worth browsing in the book store and making a decision. And yes, I'm planning to do curry week after the holidays. Stay tuned!

Posted by: Kim ODonnel | December 15, 2008 6:55 AM

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