Grab Your Spices: Make Swiss Chard and Red Lentil Curry

Last week I had an email conversation with my friend Joe, who knows his way around the kitchen, especially with a dutch oven and a big cut of meat. He told me he was happy to see my Kale Salad recipe because he doesn’t know what to do with all the greens he gets from his CSA. Actually, he said,

…any recipes you have for kale / swiss chard / collards would be welcome. I can only get down with so much “sauteed with bacon and an assload of garlic” before I just give up and stop picking up the greens, which makes me feel shame.

In our house we eat an “assload” of greens every week. In addition to kale salad or the standard garlicky saute, I put piles of spinach, kale, chard, collards, and bitter greens like broccoli raab or chicory into pasta, soup, curry, even tacos. Joe, I got you buddy. Say no to shame and yes to those greens!

That same night I took a peek in the fridge and discovered a big beautiful bunch of swiss chard. It was a cool, damp night and I decided to make one of our standby dishes, a curry with red lentils and chard for which I had all the other ingredients on hand.

MmmMmmMmm, chard and kale!

Now, let’s talk about spices. I really never keep ground spices on hand (save for a few that are more commonly sold and stored ground). Storing spices whole keeps them fresher longer, and they’re fragrant and flavorful when you grind them as you need them. I love to make my own spice blends for curries and stews, or to add to marinades or rub on meats. This is not as intimidating as it seems. The hardest part is stocking your spice cabinet, which is worth a trip to a specialty shop that sells spices in bulk. If you buy them by the jar at the grocery store, you’ll likely be paying an “assload” thanks to the ridiculous markup that is standard for packaged herbs and spices.

Once you’ve got a stocked cabinet, all you’ve got to do is reach in there, measure your chosen mix of spices into your grinder, buzz and proceed. If a recipe calls for cumin, toss a big pinch of cumin seeds in there, grind and go. Your taste buds will thank you. But first, you’ll need to invest a whopping $10 or so into one important tool – a spice grinder (otherwise known as a coffee grinder, but no coffee in this one). Use it for spices only!

My fancy tool for spice making, a coffee grinder

Then collect the spice blend. Here’s my standard spicy curry mix:

Spices for Curry

Pictured above, counter clockwise from the top: That pile of orange is turmeric, the key to curry as it gives it it’s golden color. My friend Hardeep, who is Indian, swears by its healthful qualities and puts it in everything. (I keep this one ground, because that dried root you see in the picture? It’s a you-know-what to grind up). Those green pods are cardamom. I actually toss the whole pods into the pot and fish them out at the end, but if you have cardamom seeds (little brown guys inside those pods), toss them in the grinder. Black peppercorns, coriander seeds, cumin seeds and 2 deliciously spicy chilies I grew in my backyard and dried last summer – I’ll crumble them in seeds and all, but feel free to discard the seeds or use less chili to your taste. In the center, just to the left of those chili peppers, are fennel seeds, and finally a few whole cloves.

I suggest you go with pinches and palmfuls and be completely unscientific about measuring your spices. It really doesn’t matter as long as you have the general proportions correct. Next step, grind. Your curry will look like this:

Fresh ground spices, all ready to go

If you’re short on spices or looking for a really quick and convenient dinner, keep a good store bought curry on hand and sub that in the recipe, adding some dried chili to the pot.

Let’s get on with the recipe, shall we? So I grabbed an onion, some garlic, rinsed and chopped that swiss chard (rinse first, chop second, or you’ll be rinsing out nutrients that could have been in your food). Once I had my spice blend all ground up I was ready to roll. This dish is fast and easy to prepare.

Swiss Chard and Red Lentil Curry

Swiss Chard and Red Lentil Curry

  • 2 tablespoons neutral oil (I like safflower)
  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 3 tablespoons curry blend, plus a few cardamom pods for the pot *if you’re using a store bought curry, add 1-2 dried chili peppers, crumbled
  • 1 bunch swiss chard, stemmed and coarsely chopped
  • 1 cup coconut milk
  • 3 cups stock (veggie or chicken)
  • 1.5 cups red lentils, picked over and rinsed
  • 1 cup fresh shelled sweet peas *optional, I added these because they’re in season and were on hand
  • Plain yogurt, pinch of cayenne and a wedge of lemon for serving *optional, but recommended
  • Cooked basmati rice for serving on the side *Start your rice in a pot on the side before you set to the curry

Heat the oil in a wide pot or a large saute pan over medium heat. Cook the onion until it is nice and golden, about 10-12 minutes. Add the garlic, curry, chili if adding separately, and cardamom pods. Continue to cook for about 2-3 minutes, stirring often until the mixture is sticky, fragrant and has darkened a bit in color. Toss the swiss chard in (don’t worry if it looks like a ton, it’ll cook down), add the coconut milk and stock and stir together. Raise the heat and bring to a boil. Add the red lentils, reduce to a simmer and cover for about 10-15 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the lentils are tender. If you’re using the peas, add them the pot with about 5 minutes to go.

Taste and season with salt if desired. Serve the curry with the rice on the side, a wedge of lemon, and garnish with a dollop of yogurt and a little pinch of cayenne. And yes, this tastes awesome the next day when all those spices have really melded.

*If you don’t have stock, use 2 cups coconut milk and 2 cups water. Don’t have coconut milk? Use 4 cups stock.

*We ate it with buglar because I didn’t have any rice on hand, which made for an extra healthy meal. I prefer traditional basmati, but a long grain brown rice is also delicious.

Actual spice breakdown (I think):

  • 2 tablespoons ground turmeric
  • 1 teaspoon cardamom seeds or 4 whole pods for the pot
  • 1 tablespoon black peppercorns
  • 2 tablespoons coriander seeds
  • 1 tablespoon cumin seeds
  • 1 tablespoon fennel seeds
  • 5-6 whole cloves
  • 1-2 whole dried chili peppers

Oh, and Joe – if curry aint your thing? Try these Swiss Chard Tacos. More ‘Eat your Greens‘ recipes to come.

3 Responses to “Grab Your Spices: Make Swiss Chard and Red Lentil Curry”

  1. #

    Heather says:

    Almost forgot to mention, roasted cauliflower is a great side to this dish if you’re looking to make a full menu.

  2. #

    Daughter Fish says:

    Oh, I love these pictures! And the recipe sounds delicious!

    • #

      Heather says:

      Thanks! Delicious plus satisfyingly healthy and easy, the best kind.

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