This post was a guest post on a blog that I love, Just Bento, during their Frugal Bento Month. I’ve posted it here for continuity and posterity. I encourage you to check out the other posts on Just Bento (and Just Hungry) as Maki has some of the clearest Japanese recipes you will find on the web (and some non-Japanese as well), and is currently one of my favorite food bloggers.
When I studied in France on my own during college, I had to re-learn how to cook (and shop!) for one. I didn’t have much fridge or freezer space so anything I bought fresh had to be used immediately or it was wasted. For the most part, I lived out of my pantry with the help of my host-mother’s amazing spice rack.
One night, a group of students decided to have a little dinner party. The only thing I had at home that I could stretch for five people was a large can of lentils. My host-mother had recently shared with me her recipe for curry risotto, which I’ll eventually get around to transcribing, and I had curry on the brain. I substituted the lentils for the rice and that night my curried lentil “risotto” was born. My friends loved it and it has been a pet recipe of mine for the last several years. I’ve been tweaking it ever since.
When I got back to the states, I found dried lentils much easier to find. They actually work a bit better in this recipe, so I’m kind of glad I can’t get the canned, wet variety. With dried lentils, however, you need to over-season them a bit because it takes a lot for the flavors of the curry to come through the dense lentil taste. Like rice, dried lentils also soak up a lot of liquid. If you are using dried lentils and would like to use this as part of a bento, definitely make it the night before as I find this recipe far too involved to handle in the morning. Canned lentils will probably cook a bit faster, but it still takes time to get the flavors to peak so unless you really like cooking in the morning, plan this for dinner and save some extra for the next day’s lunch.
For packing in a bento, I would cook the lentils down a bit longer to create a thicker pastier consistency (as shown in the photo above). If you are planning to eat it over a light starch such as plain white or brown rice, or couscous, you might make it a bit soupy (as in the photo below) so that the starch can soak up the juices.
Recipe: Curried Lentil “Risotto”
Makes 4-6 Servings
- 1 cup lentils
- 2 tbs olive oil
- 3 1/2 cups water
- 2 tbs vegetarian bouillon/powder (I use Osem Chicken Consomme powder which is vegan)
- 1 tbs sugar
- 1-2 tsp yellow curry powder (or some mixture of coriander, turmeric, cumin, fenugreek, fennel, cloves, mustard seeds)
- 1-2 tsp of garam masala (darker curry powder made of cloves, allspice, cinnamon, black pepper)
- 1/2 tsp cumin seeds or ground cumin
- 1/2 tsp garlic powder
- 1/2 tsp powdered ginger
- 1/2 tsp cinnamon
- salt to taste (bouillon may have already contributed a bit)
- handful or two of raisins
- Coat the inside of a tall-sided stainless steel soup pot with the olive oil, and bring to a medium heat. Add the lentils. Stir with a wooden spoon to coat with olive oil and allow to roast for a minute.
- Pour in 2 cups of water and all of the spices. Gently stir lentils immediately to make sure none have stuck to the bottom of the pot.
- Add all of the seasonings except for salt.
- Stir gently and constantly. When the lentils begin to dry, add another cup of water. Stir, repeat as necessary, until lentils are soft and fully cooked.
- Taste to make sure lentils are cooked and to check the saltiness. If they need more salt, now is a good time to add it. If there is still a lot of liquid but the lentils are cooked, you can serve as is or continue to cook and stir to allow the excess liquid to evaporate.
- Remove from heat. Add the raisins.
Serve with couscous, rice, a tofu vegetable stir-fry or alongside non-vegetarian proteins such as chicken, pork, lamb or shrimp (see my pineapple shrimp recipe as shown above). As with most curry-based dishes, the flavors becomes more pronounced over time, making these lentils a perfect side dish in both warm and cold bentos.
About this author: I'm a New Yorker who would rather cook than go out to restaurants. Sometimes I think I may be in the wrong city for that. Then I remember the exotic ingredients I'd be hard-pressed to find if I lived somewhere else. My cooking style is an eclectic range of everyday-American, Italian, middle-eastern, with extensive forays into Japanese cuisine, and some pit-stops into Indian and African cuisines. I love to try my hand at recreating dishes I taste. While I enjoy most anything with a flavor, from high cuisine to instant junk food, I have a soft spot in my belly for home-style cooking no matter the geographic or ethnic origin. Read more from this author...