Friday, October 8, 2010

Slow-Cooked (!) Lentil Chili with Coconut Milk

For my birthday, Devon gave me a crock pot!  And then, the whole next week, we had temperatures in the 100s.  Sigh...  When the weather turned about a week ago (only a week!?), I finally got to use it.  Task one: make perfectly cooked (formerly dried) chickpeas.  Done.  Task two: make a stew, duh.

There are some good veg*n slow cooker cookbooks, but I'm not a totally enthusiastic convert just yet.  For one, vegetarian food is often more about the variety of vegetables and spices in a dish, as opposed to a roast, which is mostly about the quality of the meat, no?  Accordingly, even a slow-cooked vegan recipe involves a fair amount of chopping and measuring, maybe even some sauteeing or pureeing.  Moreover, leaving it on while I'm away at school/work makes me nervous--I'm the kind of person who blows out a candle if she goes to the other room.  Then again, there are still huge perks to the slow cooker: for one, it puts out almost no heat, a godsend in hot weather.  Maybe it uses less energy--but, I use a gas stove, and my grad student salary qualified me for a reduced gas rate, so I'm not sure it's worth figuring out.  In any case, it definitely makes cooking stock, rice, and dried legumes easier (though I have heard that rice-cooking in a slow cooker is controversial).

And finally, in this, my first real crock pot experience, I found that it cooked differently.  Things just didn't get overcooked: the carrots and the lentils were tender, but still totally intact.  I'll have to try a recipe I've already made before I can comment on how this kind of cooking affects the flavor as well.

But, the flavor of this dish is pretty spectacular.  I started with a recipe in Robin Robertson's Fresh From the Vegetarian Slow Cooker, but I swapped out all the major ingredients (cauliflower, potatoes, kidney beans out; lentils and carrots in), another Theseus's-ship situation.  I kept the spices mostly the same, though, and they're awesome!  Not at all your typical imported "curry" flavor.  In fact, the combination of allspice, tomato, and fennel, with mustard, cumin, turmeric, ginger, and chilies, was refreshing and harmonious--it tasted equally like really great chili and a good Indian dal.  The tomatoes without any added sugar made it taste a bit sour, but a lot of the spices are pretty "warm" tasting.  This recipe made a ton, but I am okay with that.

I have held off on posting this recipe for several days until I got a good picture, but you know, it looks very much like the last coconut-lentil stew.  It tastes so different, though!  That one is slightly sweet, while this one is tangy with a taste almost of pizza or spaghetti-os (it's the fennel seed).  They're both really good.

Lentil Chili with Coconut Milk
(adapted from "Indian Cauliflower and Kidney Bean Stew with Coconut Milk" in Fresh From the Vegetarian Slow Cooker)

2 TB olive oil
1 onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 tsp minced ginger
1 small hot chile, minced (this was pretty spicy; reduce or omit if you wish)
1/2 tsp mustard seeds (whoops--the recipe called for dried mustard, which tastes pretty different)
1/2 tsp fennel seeds, ground
1/2 tsp ground cardamom
1/2 tsp ground allspice
1/4 tsp cumin seeds, ground
1/4 tsp turmeric
1/4 tsp cayenne pepper
1 1/2 c uncooked lentils, rinsed
2 large carrots, sliced
1 14.5-oz can diced tomatoes
4 c veg stock
salt and pepper, if desired
1 c canned coconut milk

1. Turn slow cooker on "high," add oil, and then cook onion, garlic, ginger, chile, and spices for 5-10 minutes, covered.  Then reduce heat to "low" and add remaining ingredients except coconut milk.  Cook for 6-8 hours.
2. Add coconut milk about 15 minutes before serving. Serves 6-8.

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