Curried lentils, Kesler-style

January 19, 2010 · 14 comments


This dish has been with us for about 7 years — a recipe given to me by my friend Cassia Kesler (of Tomato Pie Fame).  When she gave me a printout of the recipe, that’s what she titled it: Curried Lentils, Kesler-style; not sure what recipe details make it styled as such, but we don’t care about that, we’re just glad to have it in our repertoire.

This is a workhorse of a meal — cheap, easy, filling, and humble. Cassia’s original recipe didn’t call for toppings, but we love to top ours with the same sort of stuff we use to garnish Curried Chicken or Tofu — coconut, raisins, pineapple, peanuts, etc.  So, I guess that would make this dish more accurately named “Curried Lentils, Kesler and Carter Style.”

I’ve never been successful at my attempts to make homemade naan, so we just eat this over basmati rice. Back in Athens, circa 2004, when Bombay Cafe was still around, we’d occasionally splurge on take-out naan, the real thing, as a side. My favorite was kashmiri naan — naan stuffed with raisins and nuts — perfect to accompany the slight bitterness and heat of the curry. If you’re lucky enough to have a good source for naan, spend a few bucks on takeout, and make this dish shine.

Curried Lentils (Kesler-Carter style)
serves 4

  • 1 cup dried lentils (any color), rinsed and drained (pre-soaked if desired)
  • 2 1/2 cups water
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 tsp salt, divided
  • 1 onion, chopped fine
  • 1 celery rib, chopped fine
  • 1 large clove garlic, minced
  • 3 Tbsp butter or ghee
  • 1 1/2 – 2 Tbsp curry powder (depending on the strength of your curry powder, and your heat preference)
  • 3/4 – 1 cup plain whole-milk yogurt (to taste)
  • 2 Tbsp lemon juice
  • 3 Tbsp chopped fresh parsley (optional)

Bring lentils and water to a boil. Add bay leaf, a handful of the chopped onion, celery, and 1/2 tsp salt. Reduce to simmer, and cook for about 20 minutes, or until lentils are tender and most of the water is absorbed.

In a large sauté pan, heat butter or ghee over medium heat until shimmering, and cook onion and garlic until translucent (about 6 minutes). Add curry powder and remaining 1/2 tsp salt, and cook another 2 minutes. Add cooked lentils (don’t drain, but remove bay leaf) and cook another 2 minutes. Stir in 3/4 cup yogurt and lemon juice, and cook just to heat through, about 30 seconds. Add more yogurt to reach desired creaminess. Remove from heat, and top with parsley. Serve over basmati rice, topped with any or all of the following:  raisins (or chutney), diced pineapple, chopped peanuts, and dried unsweetened coconut. And if you’re lucky, a side of naan bread.

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Sarah T. January 19, 2010 at 10:30 am

Yummmmmy! I’ll be trying this one soon.

I was wondering, did you change your feed settings on the blog? My reader used to show me your posts in their entirety, including pictures…now I only get few sentences. Strange, huh?

katy January 19, 2010 at 12:51 pm

Sarah, I did change them so that it would be more accessible to more readers. Not sure why more isn’t showing up — maybe it has to strip it down to make it more accessible?

Monica January 19, 2010 at 5:48 pm

I’m definitely giving this a try.

Monica January 19, 2010 at 5:50 pm

Okay, I wasn’t finished commenting. Stupid pinky hit the wrong keys.

I’m now going to search all your posts tagged as cheap as that is one of my favorite meal attributes. It comes in fourth behind delicious, good for me and made by someone else.

CK January 19, 2010 at 9:08 pm

I think we just added the yogurt and maybe the lemon? (Credit goes to Scott for that.) It’s actually a recipe from the Mennonite cookbook, More With Less. It’s the only recipe we ever use from that book, just because it’s not consistently great, but man we love us some curried lentils.

CK January 19, 2010 at 9:10 pm

I mean, the book’s recipes aren’t consistently great.

katy January 19, 2010 at 10:17 pm

Monica, I like your top four. A list that every meal should aspire to, but one rarely does.

CK — wow, I had no idea that was the source. I have that book, and use it — although you’re right, it’s very inconsistent. I find I like the spirit of the book more than the actual recipes, which tend toward too homely or bland. And, a quick scan of said cookbook shows that your brilliant partner indeed came up with the yogurt. That Scott… a regular Jacques Pepin…

katy January 19, 2010 at 10:21 pm

Oh, and Monica: I have a vast collection of posts that have never been appropriately tagged (from when I moved my blog and lost all of that info) — so you might not come up with much. That’s my goal for the coming month, to finish all that tedious attention to detail.

SK January 23, 2010 at 6:26 pm

Have you ever substituted chicken stock for the water in this recipe? Curious if it would make it too salty or detract from the lentil flavors. I have some homemade stock I don’t want to waste.

katy January 23, 2010 at 6:31 pm

SK, I imagine it would be great with homemade stock — esp. since the original Mennonite recipe called for a beef bullion cube to cook the lentils (which basically stock-ifies the water).

Only thing I’d do is reduce your salt a little if your stock is already salted. Then salt to taste at the end.

Rebecca Martin January 26, 2010 at 10:33 am

Katy, I made this last night for dinner. BIG hit for both of us, and the added bonus of the kitchen smelling delicious all evening. Thanks for sharing!

Rebecca Martin January 30, 2010 at 1:26 pm

P.S. We’re just now finishing this up on our snowy morning – topped with coconut, golden raisins, and parsley. It is *perfection*. Thank you so much for adding it to our family’s favorite recipes collection!

(Also, re: the Mennonite cookbook comments – my husband comes from those fine folk, and . . . our Pennsylvania holiday-visit eating is almost always consistent with what y’all’ve described (homely/bland – and processed). Sigh. But they *do* have some good staple recipes. And they’ve given us Simply in Season, so I won’t complain too much, I guess.)

Katie @ Nap Time in Naptown March 15, 2010 at 9:31 pm

I just spent entirely too much time reading your blog that I discovered through Twitter. I’m excited that I have all the ingredients for this recipe in my cupboards right now! I just added your blog to my “Indy Links” list. :)

katy March 16, 2010 at 8:37 am

Katie — glad to have found each other, and hope you enjoy the lentils!

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