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Friday, September 12, 2008

red lentil & cauliflower curry with golden raisins


one herbivore’s teeth

Last week I went to the dentist for a crown prep. For those of you whose dental health exceeds my own, I’ll explain what that means. Yes, yes, go ahead, gloat a little—your dental advantage does entitle you to a certain moral superiority. Anyway, a crown prep is where they drill out a deteriorating filling and make way for putting a cap on the tooth. Unfortunately, that’s par for the course for this nighttime tooth-grinder. I’m on crown number three—the last of my fillings.

After the crown prep, I went home, but after the anesthetic wore off, the root was angry. The hastily-prescribed antibiotics didn’t help, and I endured four days of more or less agonizing toothache, ameliorated by frequent and massive doses of Advil. At that point, my dentist kindly squeezed me in for an emergency appointment—giving up his lunch so that I would be able to eat mine! Some people dread dental work—for myself, I was thrilled with the anticipation of that lunchtime root canal. What blessed relief!

Nothing like having a hot tooth for a week to really make you appreciate—I mean really consider carefully—the role of your teeth. Especially those massive molars that do the main masticating. I love vegetables—love them cooked, raw, roasted, and steamed; sauteed, grilled, braised, and broiled. Love to cook them, love to eat them. And they do take a lot of chewing. Now, a week after the root canal, I have a whole new sense of gratitude for my chompers. When in tip-top condition, they enable me to eat all those wonderful plants—complete with all their multifarious fibers, seeds, stems and skins—not just their tender leaves, fruits, roots and shoots. Thanks, teeth! (Will I think twice before skipping that evening flossing?)

So—in honor of my teeth, I’m posting the recipe that I made for dinner after my root canal. I needed something soothing, soft and easy to eat, but also really delicious, to perk me up! Plus I had a HUGE (six-pound) cauliflower in the ‘fridge that I couldn’t resist at the farmers’ market the other day.


red lentil & cauliflower curry with golden raisins

It’s a beautiful yellow dish, inspired quite loosely by a recipe out of Veganomicon. I used golden raisins to continue the golden color theme, but you could use regular raisins to make a speckledy contrast, if you’d rather! Also, just because I traded some light yellow carrots for some chocolate-cherry bread the other Saturday at the farmers’ market, I used them them instead of regular orange ones.

The combination of the golden raisins and lime juice is what really sparkles this dish up—I thought of it because the stew was a bit bland at first, and needed perking up (like I did), and I thought a splash of chutney would do the trick. But since I had made a small bathtub-full of the soup (remember the six-pound cauliflower?), I didn’t want to use actual chutney. So I just added the flavors of a chutney to the stew! Those sweet and tart flavors are really delicious with the nutty cauliflower.

You can serve it with rice, if you want (try the brown basmati recipe) or just slurp it straight, in giant bowls-full, like I did. This is one of those mild-mannered cauliflower dishes that sneaks up on you—the first bite is good, but after a few more bites, you realize it’s just getting yummier and more addictive with every spoonful!

If you have a big pot, make a double batch of this—as with all bean/lentil soups, it’s great the next day for leftovers! You’ll probably have to add a bit more lime, though, to spark it up again, the next day—I did.

And about the other ingredients: I love to get whole spices and grind them myself in a coffee grinder (different from the one my husband uses to grind his coffee beans). I buy my spices, usually whole, at Summit Spice & Tea here in Anchorage. I usually have fresh ginger hanging around, but can’t always count on having a fresh jalepeno pepper. So those canned green chiles from the Mexican section of the grocery store work great in a pinch!

2 tablespoons olive oil
1 large or 2 medium onions, chopped
sea salt or kosher salt
3 large carrots, peeled if the skins are tough, and sliced thinly
1-inch piece of fresh ginger, peeled and minced
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 large jalepeno pepper, halved, seeded with a spoon, and diced, OR 1 small can diced green chiles
2 teaspoons curry powder
½ teaspoon turmeric
½ teaspoon cinnamon
½ teaspoon ground cumin
½ teaspoon ground coriander
½ teaspoon whole cumin seeds, toasted until fragrant in a skillet
1 ½ cups red lentils
4-6 cups water
1 ½ to 2 pounds cauliflower (a medium-sized head), trimmed and cut into small florets
½ cup golden raisins
2-3 tablespoons freshly squeezed lime juice

1. Chop and measure out all the ingredients. (In other words, do your mise en place.)
2. In a large soup pot, heat the oil over medium-high heat.  Sauté the onions with ½ teaspoon salt until tender and translucent, about 5 minutes, and then add the carrots. Sauté for another 4 or 5 minutes until the onion is getting golden-brown.
3. Add the ginger and garlic and green chile, and sauté for a minute or so. Add the spices and stir-fry for 30 seconds or a minute, and before things start to burn, add 4 cups of water and the lentils.
4. Bring the mixture to a boil, give it a stir, and cover the pot and let it simmer for 10 to 15 minutes, until the lentils blow up. They will probably take up most of the water. Add more water at this point to your taste. I like it soupy, so I would add 2 more cups, but perhaps you’d prefer a thicker dish and wouldn’t add so much.
5. Add the cauliflower florets and the golden raisins, stirring to coat with the lentils. Cover and simmer until the cauliflower is tender. The soupier you’ve made the lentils, the quicker this will be. It will probably take from 10 to 15 minutes.
6. Remove the dish from the heat and stir in lime juice and plenty of salt to taste. Add the lime juice carefully—you don’t want to make the soup sour, but you want it to sparkle!



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