large lemongrass plantLast January, I was all about lemongrass, specifically a lemongrass stock recipe from favorite chef Annie Somerville of the famous Greens Restaurant in San Francisco. I was offering a recipe for winter salad that made use of the few greens we have in the Midwest during winter. But the showstopper ingredient was lemongrass stock from Somerville’s bestseller Fields of Greens. This freezable stock has been a staple in my kitchen ever since. So when Frank Biver out at Biver Farms said he had a BIG plant, I was at the ready with my shears.

And Frank was not kidding about size. His lemongrass plant was fished from the throwaway compost pile as an experiment. As you can see, Frank’s plant is on the order of Little Shop of Horrors—we call her Audrey. And we really hope she reappears next year—or maybe one of her cousins. Anyway, I’ve made quite a bit of lemongrass stock, and decided to follow Somerville’s lead to create a vegan curry, using rich fall produce like butternut squash and fairytale pumpkin. The curry was a favorite out at the weekly CSA gathering, and with the addition of some Cahokia Rice, which was also cooked in the lemongrass stock, it fed the farm. So here’s how to make it for your field hands…

Lemongrass Lentil Curry

Prep Time: 45 minutes

Cook Time: 1 hour, 30 minutes

Total Time: 2 hours, 15 minutes

Yield: serves 10-12 with rice or 8-10 without rice

Serving Size: about a cup and a half

Lemongrass Lentil Curry

Ingredients

    For the Lentils
  • Two cups stock, preferably lemongrass (See comments at the end of this post for suitable substitutions.)
  • One cup dry brown or green lentils, soaked eight hours to overnight
  • One-half teaspoon sea salt
  • Herb sachet of one bay leaf, one sprig of sage, one sprig of thyme (or whatever fresh herbs you have around)
  • For the Curry Base
  • One-quarter cup coconut oil
  • Two cups thinly sliced yellow onions
  • Four cloves garlic, sliced or rough chopped
  • One tablespoon each whole coriander seed and whole cumin seed
  • One teaspoon whole mustard seed
  • One-half a star anise pod
  • One tablespoon curry powder (Use your favorite; we like a little heat in ours.)
  • One-half teaspoon ground allspice
  • One-half teaspoon ground turmeric
  • One tablespoon unsulfured blackstrap molasses
  • A dash Harissa or hot sauce of choice (optional)
  • Two cups chopped bell peppers (You want a nice mix here of red, green, orange, etc. I added two poblanos—one green and one red—which was very nice.)
  • Four cups chopped tomatoes (While still available, I used farmer-grade fresh tomatoes. Organic fresh-frozen or canned will be fine, though.)
  • Four cups cubed butternut squash or partially cooked pumpkin (See the note below on preparation of the pumpkin.)
  • Pinch of raw sugar
  • Two cups lemongrass stock (to use as needed to maintain desired consistency)
  • Fresh cilantro
  • Quarter-cup fresh lemon juice
  • Sea salt to taste
  • For the Coconut Rice
  • One cup brown rice (Our new favorite Cahokia Rice is what I used here.)
  • Two tablespoons coconut oil
  • One-half teaspoon turmeric powder
  • One-half teaspoon sea salt
  • One-inch cinnamon stick (true soft cinnamon, not cassis)
  • Two cups lemongrass stock

Instructions

    To Prepare the Lentils
  1. Drain the soaked lentils and place them in a medium sauce pan. Add the two cups of stock, herb sachet and sea salt. Bring to a boil, reduce heat to low and simmer until nearly done, about 15-20 minutes. Let cool and then store in the refrigerator until ready to use. Be sure to retain the liquid, which will be added into the curry later. This step can be done ahead by a day. Bring your lentils out of the refrigerator so they can return to room temperature before adding to the curry.
  2. To Make the Coconut Rice
  3. Heat the coconut oil in a medium sauce pan that has a tight-fitting lid. Add the rice and toast lightly with the turmeric, salt and cinnamon stick. Be sure not to let the rice burn. Once it starts to brown, add the stock all at once and bring to a rapid boil. Give it a quick stir, cover with the lid and turn the heat to low. Cook undisturbed until the rice absorbs all the liquid, about 45-50 minutes. Reserve the cinnamon stick.
  4. Spread the rice onto a rimmed baking sheet lined with parchment paper and chill eight hours or overnight. This can be done ahead by a day. If this is more work than you care to invest, you can always make rice as you normally do, but this method—in my humble opinion—creates superior rice, especially when it is being added as an ingredient to a dish and must withstand a little more cooking.
  5. To Create the Curry
  6. Create the spice mix first by putting all the whole spices in a grinder and grinding until they are fine powder. You could, of course, use powdered versions of these, but the intense flavor you are looking for will not be as vibrant. Combine these spices with the turmeric, allspice and curry in a small bowl. Set aside.
  7. Heat the coconut oil over medium heat in your largest chef skillet or Dutch oven. Add the onions and a good dash of coarse sea salt and cook on medium-low heat for approximately 20 minutes. You want them to begin to caramelize. Add the chopped garlic and continue cooking for another 10 to 15 minutes.
  8. Now bloom the spices by adding your bowl of ground spices, along with the tablespoon of molasses and a dash of hot sauce or Harissa (if desired) to the oil in the skillet and letting everything bubble up and become fragrant. If you need, add a teaspoon or two more coconut oil to ensure the spice mixture doesn’t burn. This step usually takes only about a minute or so, so be mindful. Toss in the reserved cinnamon stick you used in the rice.
  9. Add the bell peppers and cook for about five minutes. Then, add the tomatoes (with any juice) and the squash cubes. Give this a good dash of sea salt and that pinch of sugar. Cook this down a bit—say five minutes—and then add the stock and the lentils you pre-cooked. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat to a steady simmer and let cook for another 30 minutes, partially covered.
  10. Note that you still have two cups of stock in reserve, which you can use as needed to keep the consistency of the curry the way you want it. I used nearly all my stock because I was adding in the rice at the end and wanted a substantial broth. If you make the curry without the rice—which you can—you may not need as much. But better to have too much than not enough. Extra stock can be refrigerated or frozen and used in another dish later on.
  11. Once the curry has become aromatic and slightly thickened, give it a taste test for final seasoning. Add in the rice at this point, allowing it to heat through for about 15 minutes on low. Finish your dish with a sprinkle of the lemon juice and a handful of chopped fresh cilantro.

Notes

Note that the prep time and cook time do not include how long it takes to prepare the lentils or cook and chill the rice. Those times are noted in the recipe and can be completed ahead.

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Out of Stock

Ok, so not everyone has a lemongrass plant on the order of Frank’s. In fact, unless you grow it yourself or shop at a farmer’s market, it is more likely you don’t have it. So while it will not taste exactly the same, the lemongrass stock can be switched out for vegetable stock and be just fine. If you are not worried about adding meat, I really think a good homemade chicken stock is the way to go. It will make a rich curry. Consider the stock I made for this past summer’s mole.

Spicy Surprise

In one batch of curry I actually added diced radish—those sweet babies from last month. They weren’t overpowering, but they were definitely there. If you’d like to try this for a little unexpected bite and still have access to some, include them with the bell peppers.

Butternut or Pumpkin?

I have made this curry once with the butternut squash and once with a small fairytale pumpkin. Both were delicious, but both are not equally easy to prepare. As winter squash go, butternuts are a breeze to peel, seed and dice. This is not true for most pumpkins. One of the reasons pumpkins stay picture perfect Halloween through turkey day and beyond is that they have hard, thick exteriors; their shells are their protection, allowing the flesh to cure for that beautiful full flavor. The shells continue to harden until finally the fruit over-ripens, and the pumpkins begin to develop soft spots—the sure sign it’s time to bake a pie or something.

And sometimes, pumpkins give up early. Moisture or a bit of mold or some critter causes them to develop one of those soft spots prematurely, which is what happened to my first fairytale of the season, but the ending was still happily ever after. I bought another one for the porch and roasted the gotta-go one. Because it was feeling a bit puny, it was pretty easy to split open, seed and roast until it was beginning to get soft, about 40 minutes at 375 degrees. Peeling after that was a cinch. In fact, I do this all the time, for instance in last year’s Pistachio-Encrusted Pumpkin Wedges. It can be done.

So I guess what I’m saying here is that there’s more work if you decide to go with a pumpkin, but the flavor is really wonderful. And, if there is a pumpkin on your porch that’s looking a bit peaked, use it! Pumpkins are more than porch décor!

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