Hi there! Welcome to The Craine’s Nest!
Today, I’m going to show you how to make a really delicious, really easy, and really healthy Indian Lentil Stew. I’ve been making this dish for years, and to tell you the truth, when I throw it together, it’s never the same as the time before. I have a VERY hard time following recipes… even my own! But, I’ve been asked for this one so many times, that I’ve had to figure out my best rendition… hopefully, that’s what you’re getting here, today.
I ate Indian food for the first time, when I was in my 20’s and living in Minneapolis, MN. My cousin Jane, who was visiting from Scotland, loved it, so we decided to try a place down the street from my apartment. Jane knew the good from the bad, and the restaurant we went to… well, it left much to be desired! The biggest problem, among others, was that it was simply, too hot to eat. So… that Christmas, Jane sent me a Madhur Jaffrey Cookbook, and a bunch of Indian spices, and said in her letter “this, is real Indian food!”. As a result, I’ve been making Indian food for the last 20 years. Thank you, Jane! xo
Indian food is not only delicious, but it’s one of the healthiest cuisines on the planet. Obviously, there are fried and fatty foods in every cuisine, but if you stick to this type of stew, with lean meat and rice, it can be very beneficial to your health. I have pretty serious tummy issues, that involve taking prescription medicine on a daily basis , and Indian food always makes my stomach feel better. Even when I add a lot of cayenne (to see the many health benefits of cayenne, go here), my stomach feels great. The spices that make up this dish (cumin, coriander, turmeric, curry, and cayenne), are all sold by many a company, as vitamins and supplements, because of their healthful properties. The benefits of these spices are phenomenal, and if you make Indian food a weekly part of your diet, you will reap the rewards!
Not only that, but Indian food is fun to make, and also a very pretty and colorful cuisine. Once you get to know the flavors well, and how they work together, you can get very creative. And if you need more enticing, the spices are BEAUTIFUL!
This dish also makes a delicious breakfast, if you have leftovers. So good… warm and energizing.
Prep Time: 20 min
Cook Time: 1 1/2 hrs on the stove top
Here’s your grocery list:
- Extra Virgin Olive Oil
- 1 Large Boneless Skinless Chicken Breast- I use about 1 lb., but I don’t like a lot of chicken. You could definitely put more in, your dish may just end up a bit more of a stew than a soupy stew.
- 2 Large (32 oz size) Boxes of “Unsalted” or Low Sodium Chicken Broth
- 12- 20 Cloves of Garlic. Depending on size. If you have large cloves, 12 will do. It sounds like a ton, but after the stew has been on the stove top for a couple hours, the flavor is not strong, at all. This dish is by no means, “garlicky”.
- 1″ to 1 1/2″ Piece of Fresh Ginger
- 2 Serrano Peppers sliced lengthwise and de-seeded, then cut lengthwise one more time. Each pepper will end up being 4 long strips.
- 1/4 tsp of Cinnamon Powder OR 1/2 a Cinnamon Stick
- 1 1/2 tsps Turmeric
- 2 1/2 tsps Cumin (you can buy Ground Cumin or Cumin Seed if you would like to grind it yourself; like coffee, the aroma and flavor are pretty different when freshly ground; if you’re going for a quick weeknight meal, by all means use the already ground version!)
- 2 1/2 tsps Coriander (you can buy Ground Coriander or Coriander Seed if you would like to grind it yourself; like coffee, the aroma and flavor are pretty different when freshly ground; if you’re going for a quick weeknight meal, by all means use the already ground version!)
- 3 1/2 tsps Curry
- 1/4 to 1/2 tsp Cayenne
- 6 oz of Lentils. I actually really like the Target brand lentils. They’re a nice size (some lentils, at other stores, are so small that they just disintegrate) and they hold up well in the stew. I use green lentils, but you can also use red lentils. I’ve gone back and forth through the years. The red lentils turn softer, faster, and can add a thickness to your soup/stew. I like the flavor of the red, but I don’t always like the consistency. For a while, I did 3 oz red and 3 oz green. That was a pretty good mix. For now, I’m back to green only, but now that you’ve got me thinking about it, I might try 4 oz green and 2 oz red! I’m not always decisive.
- Half and Half or Coconut Milk (optional at end). Most grocery stores carry this.
- Organic Basmati Rice. Trader Joe’s.
- Kosher Salt and Fresh Ground Pepper
Here are some kitchen utensils that will be helpful, but are not necessary to make the dish:
- A Food Processor or Blender
- A Spice Grinder or Coffee Grinder. A friend gave me this one (thanks, Jenny!)- you can buy it at Target.
- Lemon Press– you can’t go wrong with this Pampered Chef Version
The first thing that you’ll want to do, is to take your 12 cloves of garlic (that you have peeled) and your 1 1/2″ piece of ginger (that you’ve taken the skin off of, and cut into chunks), and put them into a food processor:
Pulse, so that the ginger and garlic are cut into very fine pieces, and set aside. If you don’t have a food processor, you can use a blender and just pulse lightly, until everything looks finely chopped:
Other options are using a garlic press and a Microplane for the ginger (I love my Microplane- you can buy one like it at Target), or chopping by hand. If you chop everything by hand, make sure that your ginger is chopped VERY finely. If it isn’t, you’ll run into big chunks of ginger when you’re eating, and they’re powerful, in a pretty unpleasant way!
Once that’s finished, set it aside, and if you’d like to grind your cumin and coriander, now’s the time! Grab a spice grinder or any little blender you have. If you don’t have any of those, a coffee grinder works great for this. You just need to make sure that it’s VERY clean and free of any coffee grounds. After I’ve cleaned the coffee grinder thoroughly, I usually take a small amount of whatever seed I’m grinding, place it in the grinder, grind it well, and then discard it. That gets rid of any residual coffee grounds or coffee smell. Now, throw some seeds into the grinder– just eyeball it, keeping in mind that you’ll need 2 1/2 tsps of each, in powder, when you’re done. If you happen to have the ground versions of these spices, and you’re grinding the fresh seed, you should take a moment to smell the difference. The coriander, especially, is very different.
Now, take your large chicken breast, and cut into small bite size pieces. I cut my chicken, length-wise down the middle (like a butterfly, but actually separated). Then I cut it into small pieces (about 1″ in length). In my experience, the chicken seems to cook better, in very small chunks. It stays more tender and just tastes better.
We’re ready to cook!
Take a 6 qt or larger pot, and coat the bottom, generously, with your olive oil:
A Dutch Oven, Stainless Steel, or Non-Stick Pot, would all work well. Heat stovetop to medium-high and get your oil nice and hot, then lower to medium and take a rubber spatula to get all your ginger and garlic out of the blender, and into your pot. Saute it, keeping it constantly moving, so that you brown your garlic lightly, but don’t burn it.
If the pot seems slightly too hot, lower your heat a bit. Saute for about 5 minutes or until everything has softened up and during that time, add 1/4 teaspoon of cinnamon (in the picture above, I added a cinnamon stick; lately, I like cinnamon powder, which seems warmer and milder; cinnamon stick is sometimes too strong for me) and 2 serrano peppers to your pot. Cut the ends off, slice lengthwise, and remove all the seeds. Slice lengthwise 1-2 more times down each half.
Next, throw in your chicken pieces. I usually shake up the pan to get everything laying as evenly as possible at the bottom of the pan, turn the heat up to Medium- High, throw in some kosher salt, and let the chicken cook. I let everything sit for a couple of minutes, watching closely, to make sure it’s not burning, but I want my chicken to brown a little:
As soon as it seems to be getting pretty hot, turn your heat down to Medium, take a wooden spoon and start moving things around the pot. Keep sauteing until the chicken has browned a bit, and everything in the pot is mixed and browning. At this point, add a generous amount of freshly ground pepper. If it starts to get sticky, you can add some more olive oil, throw in a little more salt, and if that doesn’t do it, you can put in a little water, to “unstick” or deglaze. You’re chicken and garlic/ginger/cinnamon mixture should look something like this after about 10 minutes (there will also be strips of serrano which aren’t shown here):
Once everything is nice and brown, you can add all your spices:
Throw in your turmeric, cumin, coriander, curry, and cayenne, and stir well, into your chicken mixture:
Stir for a little longer, and if things have dried out, add a little olive oil. Stir the oil in and then add your 6 oz of Lentils. Stir everything together, very well, for about a minute:
Next, add your 2 large boxes of Chicken Stock. Stir everything together very thoroughly, move your pot to the back burner (esp. if you have little people and/or pets in the house), and put your heat on high. Bring to a boil, and allow to boil and reduce down for about 20 minutes:
Now, turn your heat to medium- high to high and keep your stew rolling. I keep it going like this for another 50 mins to an hour.
At this point, after an hour on the stove top, the liquid should be quite reduced and thickening, but still soupy:
After stirring it well, turn your burner to medium-low and cover the pot. Leave it on the stove top for another 10 minutes or so. It will thicken up a bit, but still end up a stew/soup consistency. Continue to check on it, intermittently, and give it a spin, when you do.
Side Note* Don’t forget to throw your rice on the stove at some point, in the last hour of cooking- directions are on the package. I usually put my rice on, right after I’ve added stock to my curry, and started reducing it down.
Once it has reduced down and is ready to go, it will look significantly richer and thicker. Add salt to bring out the flavors, and then wash and chop some cilantro. I use about 1/2 a bunch, and chop it very finely. Throw that in, and mix well. Squeeze the juice of about 1/2 a lemon. At this point, your stew will probably look something like this:
I usually let it simmer a little longer, after I’ve added those final touches, stirring frequently. At the very end, I may add just a bit more lemon, and I make sure that it’s tasting just right, by adding a bit more salt if needed. Remember, we started with unsalted broth and so, adding salt a few times, is usually necessary if you want some flavor- and the flavors of the spices REALLY come out, with a little salt. Lemon is a good replacement for salt, too, if you’re trying to keep your sodium intake low. It definitely brings flavors forward, but you do have to take care not to make it too sweet. Lime is another option. I’ve noticed that lime adds a sort of “smoky” quality to the stew. And lastly, lemon/lime and salt are “to taste”, so do what tastes great to you! I add some more fresh ground pepper at the end, as well.
Depending on the day, I may or may not add Coconut Milk. I just do a short pour. Sometimes, I think it melds the stew together, to perfection. Other times, I just want a really light, hot, lemony flavor, and I skip the coconut milk.
Remember that when cooking, this end part is really up to your own taste. Some like it really spicy and lemony, some like it richer and thicker, some like it saltier. We all have different taste! A few rules of thumb are as follows:
If it’s tasting bland and watery and it’s been on the stovetop for a long time, turn up the heat and add salt. Lemon and cilantro definitely help to pull these flavors forward, as well.
If it seems too thick and salty, add some water and stir for a little while. Again, lemon will help.
If you want it a little richer, cook a little longer and add coconut milk.
If it tastes too cinnamony, or you’ve added too much lemon and it’s become a bit sweet, black pepper will help. Sometimes I add white pepper as well, for this problem.
If you really like cinnamon, you can add another 1/8 tsp of cinnamon about half way through the cooking process.
There she is. Warm and Yummy. Enjoy!
See you next time at The Craine’s Nest. Thanks for cooking with me today! I hope you enjoy this dish and please lmk, if you do! Also, I would love to know if you change it up and make it even better!
Until next time…