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Red lentil curry recipe from a pantry raid

Tan Hsueh Yun on 09 Sep 2018

The Straits Times


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If you have nothing fresh in the refrigerator, cook this red lentil curry, which makes use of only ingredients found in the pantry


For someone who plans most of her life right down to the last detail, I am remarkably slack about keeping the fridge stocked for post-vacation meals.


So often, I arrive home from the airport famished. There is usually nothing fresh in the fridge and any meat would have to be thawed out for hours. That will not do, since unpacking makes me ravenous.


There I was recently, starving after a short holiday in Ipoh. I had yogurt that night, with some sad-looking blueberries I had not managed to finish before the vacation. I could not be bothered to grocery shop the next day either, so I looked in my pantry for inspiration.


As usual, things fell on my head when I opened the cupboard.


Rooting through it, I found the fixings for one of my favourite meals - red lentil curry.


This Indian-and Thai-inspired dish is quick and easy. People who are outraged about culture appropriation will have a fit, but isn't cooking really about taking the best bits of many cuisines and making them all work together?


Red lentils or masoor dal are available in supermarkets and in spice shops at wet markets. They are cheap, full of protein and, when cooked, very filling. I often freeze individual servings, so useful to have when at a loss as to what to cook.


The only prep work to be done is peeling and chopping onions. I use purple onions, which I always have on hand, for this. But use any kind you have. A handful of shallots would work as well.


Since there is no way I am making Thai red curry paste from scratch, I use a store-bought one, which lasts months in the pantry.


Of the different brands I have tried, Mekhala's Organic Red Curry Paste is the one I like best. It has not only a strong spicy punch, but also a bright flavour I cannot get enough of.


Cooking the dish is really all about chucking things in a pot in a certain order, then simmering the lentils until they are tender. This takes about 20 minutes over medium-low heat, but taste and figure out how soft you like your lentils. Soft but not mushy is what I look for and the dal needs to hold its shape and be flowy like risotto.


I start with 500ml of liquid, then add more if needed. I've used water, vegetable broth and chicken stock. The tastiest version is with chicken stock, but if you don't have any on hand, water works just fine.


I keep my dal simple, with just onions and lentils. But you can add cubed carrot, sweet potato or paneer, and peas or spinach.


If you are adding any of these ingredients to your dal, be sure to use more liquid.


To gild the lily a bit, I drizzle some coconut cream on the lentils before eating and throw some fresh coriander leaves on top too, roughly torn up. They are entirely optional. I was just lucky to find some coriander in the fridge that was not too dead.


Bread is perfect for this dish. You can never go wrong with a crusty baguette. But I usually have flour tortillas or chapati in the freezer, and I had this with chapati, lightly browned in a pan.


Of course, this curry cannot match the epic meals I had in Ipoh, but it did help a little in banishing the post-holiday blues.


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  • 1 medium onion, 180 to 200g
  • 2 Tbs cooking oil
  • 75g Thai red curry paste
  • 300g tomato puree
  • 250g red lentils (above)
  • 500ml water, or chicken or vegetable broth
  • 100ml coconut cream
  • Salt to taste
  • Coriander leaves (optional)
  • Extra coconut cream for drizzling (optional)



  1. Peel and dice the onion as fine or as chunky as you like.
  2. Place a pot over medium heat and pour in the oil. When it has heated up, add the onions and saute about two minutes, or until the pieces are translucent.
  3. Add the red curry paste and fry it with the onions for about a minute, until it is fragrant. Add the tomato puree and stir it well into the onions and paste. Add the lentils and the liquid. Stir to mix well.
  4. Bring to a boil, then lower the heat to medium low and simmer for about 20 minutes or until the lentils are tender. If the lentils look dry, add water in 50ml increments. Stir constantly, especially if you are not using a non-stick pot.
  5. Stir in the coconut cream and simmer for another two to three minutes.
  6. Dish out into bowls and top with coriander leaves and a drizzle of coconut cream if desired. Serve with flatbread.


Serves four


Source: The Straits Times © Singapore Press Holdings Limited. Reproduced with permission.


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