If there is one cuisine that deserves the title of “Best Meatless,” it is the food of India.
Madhur Jaffrey is happy to accept that title, as a lifelong ambassador of Indian cooking and author of 15 Indian cookbooks.
And thanks to Jaffrey’s new award-winning book, “Vegetarian India: A Journey Through the Best of Indian Home Cooking” (Alfred A. Knopf, $35), we can travel vicariously to sample the glorious tastes, smells, textures and colors of her favorite meatless dishes.
“I’ve traveled the world investigating vegetarian foods, and other people just haven’t developed vegetarian cuisines like we have,” Jaffrey said in an interview. “We are the only country with such an ancient tradition, over such a long period. Indians realized from the beginning that food must look good and taste good.”
Indian food is all about balanced spices and flavors.
“We are the masters of spice,” she said. “In an Indian meal, there is always something with beans, and the heart of the meal is the grain. Always yogurt or milk. It can be very simple.”
Meatless Mondays are nothing new in India.
“Meatless is just how a lot of us eat all the time,” Jaffrey said.
“One or two days, have a very filling and exciting vegetarian meal. With Indian food, you won’t miss the meat. You won’t even think about it.”
Try this green lentil curry, that serves almost as a meal in itself.
Green Lentil Curry With Kale
Serves 4 to 6.
Note: This is almost a meal in itself, and nutritionally complete if you add some whole grain pita bread (or rice) and yogurt on the side. You could also convert it to soup by adding a mugful of water or stock toward the end of the cooking time.
• 1 1/3 c. green lentils
• 1/4 tsp. turmeric
• 4 1/4 c. water, divided
• 1/2 tsp. cayenne pepper
• 4 oz. green beans, cut in 3/4 in. segments
• 3 oz. kale, stems discarded, finely chopped
• 3 tbsp. finely chopped fresh cilantro
• 1 medium carrot, peeled and cut in 1/4 in. rounds
• 1 1/4 tsp. salt
• 1 tsp. peeled and grated ginger
• 1 garlic clove, peeled and crushed
• 1 tsp. ground cumin seeds
• 2 tsp. ground coriander seeds
• 3 tbsp. olive oil or canola oil
• 1/4 tsp. whole cumin seeds
• 1 tbsp. chopped shallots
• 2 tbsp. tomato purée
Put the lentils, turmeric and 4 cups water in a medium pan and bring to a boil. Partly cover and simmer gently for 20 minutes. Add the cayenne, beans, kale, cilantro, carrots and salt. Stir and bring to a boil again. Partly cover and simmer another 20 minutes.
Meanwhile, make the curry paste: Combine the ginger, garlic, ground cumin and coriander in a small bowl, then mix in 1/4 cup water.
Pour the oil into a medium frying pan and set over medium-high heat. When hot, add the whole cumin seeds. Let them sizzle for 5 seconds, then add the shallots. Stir and fry until lightly browned. Add the curry paste and fry until you can see the oil along the edges, about 1 1/2 minutes. Add the tomato purée and fry for another minute, until you can see oil along the edges.
When the lentils have finished cooking, add the contents of the frying pan. Stir and cook gently for another 5 minutes.
Nutrition information per each of 6 servings:
Calories 220 Fat 8 g Sodium 530 mg
Carbohydrates 29 g Saturated fat 1 g Total sugars 2 g
Protein 12 g Cholesterol 0 mg Dietary fiber 9 g
Exchanges per serving: 2 carb, 2 lean protein, 1 fat.
Robin Asbell is a cooking instructor and author of “Big Vegan,” “The Whole Grain Promise” and “Great Bowls of Food.” Find her at robinasbell.com.