The luxury in grocery shopping in developed countries is convenience and variety. I drool at summer recipes of strawberries (or any berry really), spinach, and even black beans. The small grocery stores and local markets in Rabat sell ingredients for Moroccan cuisine. Outside of that, it’s a hunt for specialty ingredients. The challenge for me is finding is either in finding special ingredients or new ways to use the same ingredients. This is particularly true for our legumes and lentils.
Sure, beans and lentils are a staple of the Moroccan diet–specifically chickpeas, white beans, red beans, and brown lentils. This means all other varieties of beans and lentils are not easy to find without some serious hunting or trips to specialty stores. I’ve yet to find black beans, red or yellow lentils, and I think I’d be dreaming if I wanted to get my hands on beluga or French green lentils. I love lentils, but a steady diet of brown lentils can get boring. Lentil soup, lentil salad, rice with lentils, there aren’t that many ways to add variety to the basic brown lentil.
Even though my tried and true brown lentil recipes are nutritious and delicious, I’m always looking for recipe inspiration in creating new flavors. Last week, as I stared at yet another package of brown lentils, I was utterly lacking in inspiration. All I could think was cumin, coriander, and lemon? Aaaaahgaaaaaaiiiin? I was craving dal, but brown lentils are tougher and chewier and don’t lend themselves to the velvety yellow dal I was daydreaming about. As I browsed blogs, pictures and recipes, I came across a Madhur Jaffrey’s simple recipe for Green Lentil Curry at foodandwine.com. It was gem. Sure, it still had cumin and coriander, but also so much more.
Green lentils have roughly the same texture as the ubiquitous brown lentils we get here, and yet, the spices and flavors of this curry were just different enough that it was a nice departure from my lentils and rice or lentil salad. I served this with some rice, a tomato and onion salad, and a cucumber yogurt sauce. Weeknight dinner for two nights—double score.
BROWN LENTIL CURRY (adapted from Madhur Jaffrey’s Green Lentil Curry)
2 cups dried brown lentils
2 bay leaves
1 chicken or vegetable bouillon cube (If you don’t have this use broth or a teaspoon of salt)
½ teaspoon turmeric
3-4 fennel stalks (this is optional, I had them so I threw them into the water)
9-10 cups water
1 large carrot, peeled and chopped
8 ounces of ¼ kg fresh green beans, cut into halves
1 tablespoon freshly grated ginger
2-3 cloves fresh garlic
2 teaspoons ground coriander
2 teaspoons ground cumin
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 fresh, hot chili pepper of your choice, minced (optional)
1 small onion, chopped
4 tablespoons tomato paste mixed with 3 tablespoons water
½ cup fresh parsley or cilantro, chopped
juice from ½ lemon
In a large pot, bring lentils to a boil with the bouillon cube, bay leaves, turmeric, fennel stalks, and water. Partially cover and simmer for about 20-25 minutes, until the lentils are just tender. Then, add the chopped carrots and green beans and simmer for another 10-15 minutes until the lentils and veggies are tender.
While the lentils are simmering, prepare the spices. In a small bowl or in a mortar, place the garlic, coriander, cumin, ginger, and ¼ cup of water. Smash with a spoon or pestle to make a spice paste.
Remove the fennel stalks and bay leaves from the lentils. Drain the lentils, green beans, and carrots, leaving just ½ cup or so of liquids. In order to save just a little of the liquid, I did this by using the lid of the pot to drain rather than pouring everything through a colander.
In a small frying pan, heat 3 tablespoons of olive oil over high heat. Add the hot pepper and fry for 30 seconds, until fragrant. Then add the chopped onions and salt lightly, and cook for 3 minutes. Add the spice paste and let everything cook together for another 3-4 minutes, over medium-high heat. Add the tomato paste and water mixture and cook sauce together for another minute.
Pour the sauce over the lentils, green beans, and carrots, stirring together so the lentils are veggies are evenly coated with the sauce. Top with chopped fresh herbs, a squeeze of the fresh lemon juice, and salt and pepper to taste. This goes great with some plain white or brown rice.