Indian cooking—the northwestern branch of it specifically, as “Indian” is as sweeping a description as American, Italian, or Spanish—is the first exotic cuisine I can remember getting a proper introduction to as a kid. My parents hosted some Pakistani missionaries at our home; and while, of course, Pakistan is not India, the cuisine across the subcontinent has some shared characteristics: rice, spices, vegetables, amazing and mysterious smells, singing sweet music to my suburban California child’s soul.
When I met my daughter’s father Joel, he gave me what has become a cherished lexicon of food from across the vast country: Lord Krishna’s Cuisine, a massive and lovingly assembled compendium from Yamuna Devi, whom Joel had known when he lived in India.
The sheer luxuriance of color that occurs when I muster up the ingredients for an Indian dish gives me a little shiver. For this one, I knew I wanted to use up some apricot-hued lentils, as well as (of course) a cauliflower and an eggplant that had been waiting patiently. A mix of whole and ground spices provided the depth and complexity that makes good Indian food so special; no curry powder circa 1970, please, which has unfairly convinced more people they don’t like Indian food than any other single factor. Plenty of mint and parsley on hand, because I had them and didn’t have cilantro, which also would have worked.
I’ll be the first to admit that the dish, when you first glance at the recipe, is going to seem overly complicated. It DOES have quite a few components. Feel free to skip any of them, and to assemble the dish any which way that suits you. For instance, leave out either the carrots or the roasted veggies, or both, simply serving the lentils with the various toppings and the rice if you like. Or leave out the lentils, which take the longest. Even better, make the lentils and the carrots the day before; the flavor gets better as they sit.
Another way to simplify is to simply pick up a bottle of garam masala already mixed, and replace the spices with that. One of the great joys of Indian cooking is its improvisation, which rivals Coltrane, Bird, and Monk in their finest hours.
The point, of course and as ever, is to make it yours. And most importantly, as Joel told me, to make it and offer it with love. Namaste.
Wash lentils thoroughly, drain, and place in a bowl with 3/4 c water. Let soak 30 minutes.
Prep all vegetables: Peel and cube eggplant; place in colander and sprinkle with salt. Cut cauliflower into florets. Coarsely chop 1/2 small onion and put in food processor; add peeled garlic and peeled ginger. Coarsely chop mint and parsley stems; add to food processor. Peel carrots, halve lengthwise, and cut in 2" lengths; set aside. Peel and seed cucumber, then cube. Halve cherry tomatoes. Place in separate colander, sprinkling generously with salt. Shred cabbage and kale leaves and set aside. Finely chop the mint and parsley together.
Prep all spices: Put 1 tablespoon garam masala in large bowl to toss roasted vegetables. Combine coriander, cumin, and turmeric for lentils; have cayenned and mustard seeds handy. Measure tomato puree and sweetener for lentils. Combine cardamom, coriander, and turmeric for carrots; measure out orange juice, sweetener, and sparkling water.
Preheat oven to 400º. Melt 1 tablespoon coconut oil over low heat; cool. (Alternatively, use a light oil, such as a nut oil.) Place eggplant and cauliflower in bowl with garam masala. Pour oil over and toss. Spread on a parchment-covered baking sheet, place in oven and set timer for 20 minutes.
Process onion, garlic, ginger, and herb stems until finely chopped. Heat oil in a medium-sized saucepan over medium heat. Add mustard seeds and cook until they turn grey and begin to pop. Add onion mixture and stir. Sprinkle with cayenne, then add spice mix. (Alternatively, simply add 1 1/2 teaspoon garam masala.) When mixture is fragrant and onions are slightly brown, add lentils and water, tomato puree, and sweetener, if using. Bring to a medium bubble and cook, covered, for 20-30 minutes, until lentils have achieved desired doneness. Let rest 5 minutes, then stir in ghee (if using) and add Seeds of Change package contents or 2 cups of rice or quinoa (if using). Before serving, toss with 1/2 of chopped herbs.
Stir roasted veggies, then roast an additional 10 minutes. After 10 minutes, stir in coconut and cashews if using, roasting an additional 10 minutes (40 minutes roasting time total).
In medium skillet, place peeled carrots. Top with ghee, sweetener, orange juice, spice mix or garam masala, and stir. Add sparkling water and bring to a boil. Cook uncovered 15 minutes, or until all water has evaporated and carrots are tender and glazed. Toss with remaining 1/4 of minced herbs.
Combine cukes and tomatoes with yogurt; toss with about 1/4 of the herbs.
Assemble the bowl: 1/2 cup lentils/rice mix, and roasted veggies and carrots as you like. Fill 1/3 to 1/2 of bowl with shredded kale/cabbage mix, and top with yogurt veggies.
The lentils were inspired by a recipe in Plenty, by Ottolenghi. The carrots were adapted from Lord Krishna's Cuisine by Yamuna Devi.