Consider the lentil for a moment: cheap, easily stored, quick cooking, high nutrition, and eminently flexible. And did I say cheap, er, inexpensive? Yet here in the US, the lentil is an ingredient probably the majority of home cooks have never tried to prepare on their own.
Time to change that, perhaps with a resolution to make a lentil dish at least once a month, if not weekly. And, at barely a dollar a pound, what do you have to lose?
Probably the best way to start using these magic beans (okay, so they aren't beans, but they are related) is in some east Asian, especially Indian, recipes. The one I'm introducing today is an incredible powerhouse nutritionally--sweet potatoes, kale, olive oil, lots of fragrant and wonderful spices and, of course, lentils. On top of all this, the dish can be prepared in just under an hour, and it is easily scaled up so you can have leftovers for lunches or a second dinner later in the week.
Some thoughts on the other ingredients
While I don't think of sweet potatoes as a "spring vegetable," my local Costco still had a ten pound bag of these for only 69 cents a pound. While ten pounds sounds like a lot, that low price gave me lots of excuses to include yams in my diet every day. (Easiest way to cook? Scrub well, cut out spots, and microwave until very soft, about 4 to 6 minutes for a medium to large yam. Allow to cool slightly and eat, as is or with just the slightest touch of butter and/or salt and pepper. And yes, the skins of sweet potatoes are very edible, and really quite tasty, especially if you also like the skins of baked "regular" potatoes.)
The kale in this recipe is frozen, just because I keep some of this convenience food in the freezer all the time. Fresh kale would also be good, but the markets here in the upper Midwest don't seem to feature this wonderful green nearly as often as I'd like. If you have fresh kale, by all means use it. Just chop it and add a little earlier in the recipe so it has time to cook
We have a food co-op in town (open to non-members like me too) that has a great bulk foods section, including an entire aisle of bulk spices and herbs. It is here that I became "daring" enough to try some Indian dishes. Before I discovered Good Foods (now Peoples Co-op), I was hesitant to lay down $2 or $3 for a tiny container of some spice I wasn't sure I'd like or would use more than once. Once I could bring home tiny bags of seasonings for mere pennies, I discovered that many Indian dishes I had loved at restaurants could be reasonably duplicated here at home. That said, it is important to note that "curry powder" is a mix that can vary somewhat from brand to brand, store to store. If you are not sure how much to use from your particular supplier, start with a smaller amount, taste, and add more as needed to reach your preferred result. This probably can apply to other seasonings such as the turmeric. If it is an unfamiliar seasoning, start low and add as needed to get the flavor you are seeking.
As with the spices, I had been hesitant to try using fresh ginger root. Usually around $4 a pound, that sounded expensive and something I wasn't sure how to handle. Silly me. Try weighing one of those little things and you'll find a size large enough for several recipes is so lightweight, you'll be paying less than a quarter. For the amount of punch fresh ginger can give to so many dishes, I am really sorry I didn't try it before.
So now, to begin.
Curried Lentils with Sweet Potatoes and Kale
1 large onion, chopped--about 1 to 1 1/2 cups
2 medium to large yams (16 to 18 oz total), peeled and cubed
6 large garlic cloves, minced
2 to 3 t minced ginger
8 oz brown lentils, rinsed and drained
4 T low sodium vegetable soup base (see NOTE for other choices)
4 to 5 c water
1 t cumin
2 t curry powder, or to taste
1 t turmeric, or to taste
2 c frozen chopped kale
salt to taste
1. Saute the onion and cubed yams over medium high heat, in just enough olive oil to keep the vegetables from sticking. Stir occasionally.
2. When the onions are just starting to turn translucent, stir in the lentils, garlic, ginger, soup base, seasonings, and about 2 cups of water. Cover and bring to a boil. Turn the heat to medium low, just enough to keep the mixture simmering.
3. After about 10 minutes or so, add another 2 cups of water. Stir, taste for seasoning and adjust as necessary, and continue to cook, covered, another 15 to 25 minutes, until the lentils are tender. Add water as necessary and stir occasionally.
4. About 10 minutes before serving, stir in the frozen kale, turn heat up to medium, and cook just long enough for the mixture to return to a good boil.
Serve topped with yogurt or raita and cilantro if desired. This is especially good with naan, but rice could be a good accompaniment as well. Oh, and the kids in the family discovered they liked taking whole romaine leaves (smaller ones) and using those as "scoops" to pick up and eat the curry. Kind of like an Indian lettuce wrap?
Makes about 4 to 6 servings.
NOTE: There are several choices for the liquid in this mixture. Replace the water and low sodium vegetable soup base with:
4 to 5 c stock, vegetable or chicken
4 to 5 c water and 2 to 3 vegetable or chicken bouillon cubes
4 to 5 c water and 3 to 4 low sodium bouillon cubes