An everyday curry base
This curry base recipe is a very useful one to have in your repertoire. Endlessly versatile, you can add pretty much any protein to it.
Curry Base Recipe
To make the curry base, start by frying off a finely chopped onion. You can use any fat to do it. Ghee is traditionally used in Indian recipes, but you can use any vegetable oil, (I tend to opt for rapeseed oil as it has more Omega 3) bacon fat, fat from a meat joint, whatever you have.
Add the spices and give them a sizzle for a minute or two to cook them in the oil as they are oil soluble. Now add the tomatoes, tomato puree and the acidifier. I use tamarind paste, but if you don’t have that, lemon juice will work fine.
Add the lentils, a stock cube and some water and set it to blip slowly for about an hour. This long cooking helps to bring out the maximum flavour. The acid in the tomatoes and the tamarind/lemon juice also increase the time it takes for the lentils to soften.
Keep an eye on the water, it might need a splash more if it looks too dry.
Your easy lentil curry base is now ready.
Some people recommend adding a tblsp of garam masala right at the end. I tried it, but thought it tasted better without it.
Vegan Lentil Recipes
To keep the lentil curry vegan, add some cooked vegetables at this point – cubed and roasted butternut squash and chopped frozen spinach for instance – frozen spinach because it is much cheaper than fresh; or chopped green beans, cauliflower florets and mushrooms; cubed potato pieces, chopped capsicum pepper and mushroom; chunks of carrot, frozen spinach and peas.
You could add more protein in the form of any kind of beans too. Value baked beans rinsed of the sauce being cheapest, but any tinned or dried, soaked and cooked bean will work well in this base recipe.
Or just add the beans, and no extra vegetables, it will work beautifully.
Change the lentil curry by adding a protein. I usually use diced chicken breast, added at the end and cooked through for a few minutes. It would be lovely with diced lamb, cooked or raw prawns, or diced stewing steak. If I was doing a beef version, I would add the beef right at the beginning of the hours simmer so that it had time to soften and cook to tenderness.
You could add paneer, cubed and fried until crispy; tofu would be good too.
Does curry freeze?
Indeed it does. Having a frozen curry tucked away is a very useful item to have at your fingertips. You could freeze the curry base and add any extras when you use it. Or freeze it with the extra vegetables and protein so that you have a delicious home made ready meal whenever you want it.
Curry from scratch
Making curry from scratch in this way, without using a ready made paste, gave me a great sense of achievement. It means I can experiment with other spices, altering the flavour as I go along
- 100 g dried red lentils
- 1 tbsp rapeseed oil or ghee, fat from a joint etc
- 1 large onion finely chopped
- 6 garlic cloves chopped or grated
- thumb-sized piece of ginger peeled and chopped or grated
- ¼ tsp ground turmeric
- ¼ tsp chilli powder
- 1 tbsp cumin seeds
- 1 tbsp ground coriander
- 1 tbsp tomato purée
- 1 tsp tamarind paste or lemon juice optional
- 400 g tin of chopped tomatoes
- 1 stock cube
Optional extras to serve
- 1 tbsp garam marsala to finish, optional
- green chillies optional
- fresh coriander optional
- Heat the oil and fry the onion with a pinch of salt for 10 mins until it starts to turn golden.
- Add the garlic, ginger, turmeric, chilli powder, cumin seeds and ground coriander, and cook for 3 mins or so.
- Stir in the tomato purée, chopped tomatoes and tamarind or lemon juice. Simmer gently for 8-10 mins until you have a thick paste.
- Add the lentils to the tomato base, add the stock cube and tip in 600ml water (use some to rinse the tomato can).
- See protein suggestions. If using beef, add it now
- Simmer gently, stirring now and again, for up to 1 hour. You may need to add a splash more water if it looks like it needs it.
- Stir through the garam masala if using.
- Season with salt
Add a protein to the curry base
- Add 200g chopped chicken breasts and cook through. Or the same amount of prawns - cook through if raw. Or use any kind of canned bean - butter beans; cannellini beans; rinsed baked beans; black eye beans etc. Or use diced stewing steak. If you decide on this option, add the beef right at the beginning to ensure it cooks to tenderness.
Serve the curry
- Sprinkle with chopped fresh coriander and sliced chilli if using
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