Monday, March 30, 2009

A.U.R.A. - Red Lentil Coconut Curry

I know what you're thinking: "A.U.R.A.? What the heck is that?"

Well, on the heels of Recession: Party of One came another flash of inspiration for the blog, this one borne of hours spent perusing and collecting recipe upon recipe that have always been relegated to the dark annals of an overflowing notebook. Until now!

Introducing A.U.R.A.: Actual Use of a Recipe's Awesomeness (have I ever mentioned how obsessed I am with acronyms? And don't even get me started on alliterations).

That's right, the Fearless Cook, she who wouldn't dream of reading from a book - a BOOK! - while in the kitchen, has broken down. I just decided that it would be wrong to deprive you (not to mention myself) of so many delicious concoctions - regardless of whose concoctions they may be.

And I don't think that this idea conflicts with my Fearless philosophy: I'll still be making the recipes with the AURA label for the first time (since I seem to be allergic to making a recipe more than once), and of course, I'll be tweaking the hell out of them, and it should go without saying that I'll still give my honest and witty (?) commentary on the whole process.

May I present the first installation of AURA: RED LENTIL COCONUT CURRY.

(I guess we can add curry to the list of obsessions.)

I can't remember exactly where this recipe came from, but I had seen a recipe awhile back that incorporated red lentils - which are just so darn cute I had to pick some up from the Whole Foods grain bins - and coconut milk. I thought it sounded delish, so I Googled "red lentil and coconut recipe" and found this one, reprinted here exactly as I found it, asterisk bullets and all.


* 1 medium onion, finely chopped
* 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
* 1 tablespoon finely chopped peeled fresh ginger
* 2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
* 1 teaspoon ground cumin
* 1/2 teaspoon ground coriander
* 1 teaspoon turmeric
* 1 teaspoon salt
* 1 (2 1/2-inch) fresh jalapeƱo or serrano chile, finely chopped, including seeds
* 2 cups water
* 1 1/2 cups dried red lentils (10 oz)
* 1 (13- to 14-oz) can unsweetened coconut milk
* 1 lb zucchini (2 medium), cut into 1/4-inch dice
* 1 cup loosely packed fresh cilantro sprigs

* Accompaniment: white rice


Cook onion in oil in a 3 1/2- to 4-quart heavy pot over moderate heat, stirring occasionally, until edges are golden, about 6 minutes. Add ginger and garlic and cook, stirring, 1 minute. Add cumin, coriander, turmeric, salt, and chile and cook, stirring, 1 minute.

Stir in water, lentils, and coconut milk, then simmer, covered, stirring occasionally, 5 minutes. Stir in zucchini and simmer, covered, until lentils and zucchini are tender, about 15 minutes. Season with salt and serve with cilantro sprigs scattered on top.

Now for my tweaks and thoughts:

1. I added the last of my butternut squash, just so I could stop looking at it every time I opened the fridge. It was a yummy addition.

2. I made less than the recipe calls for - I'd say I cut it down by about 1/3, although since I'm not a dedicated measurer, who knows.

3. I used a greater ratio of coconut milk to other liquid - I did about half and half. On that note, I used chicken broth instead of water to add more flavor.

4. Rather than use all those different spices, I used about 2 - 3 T. of my leftover Thai Red Curry powder from the Spice House.

5. I used some fresh chopped cilantro IN the sauce, not just on top.

6. I used much less than a whole onion - only about 1/4 of an onion.

7. I didn't dice the zucchini; I halved it then cut it into thick half-moons.

8. I only used about a cup of lentils.

As an elementary school student, I was bright in most subjects, but I always failed miserably at tasks that required following strict directions, and at - oh yeah - math. (Some things never change.)

I think this is a great example of what I'm always trying to tell my friends who meticulously measure each ingredient: eyeballing it usually works, and most things are OK to substitute for similar other things (not that I'd criticize how anyone else cooks - everyone has their own style and comfort level).

This curry came out great, but with one caveat: it was really, really spicy. And that's coming from someone who looooves spicy food. I have a pretty high spice tolerance, so I'd advise anyone who wants to whip this up at home to at the very least remove the seeds from the serrano pepper (that's the hot part), and maybe even use only half of the pepper flesh. It was far from inedible, but let's just say my sinuses are crystal clear.

I hope you've enjoyed the first AURA installment, and I really can't wait to get back in the kitchen and try out some of those horribly neglected recipes I've been hoarding over the years.

Thanks for reading! More soon...

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