October 31, 2010

Pumpkin and Red Lentil Curry Soup & Sweet and Hot Shrimp Curry

For lunch yesterday, I made two new Indian recipes.  Both were inspired by recipes in Camellia Panjabi's 50 Great Curries of India, but while I used recipes from that book as a starting point, by the time I put my own spin on them, they ended up as something distinctly different.  Both were also quite good.

The one that represents the greatest departure from the recipe in Panjabi's book is Pumpkin and Lentil Curry Soup.  I started with a recipe for masoor dal (red lentils), but decided to mix several things around, include more pumpkin and make it into something more distinctly a soup.

The other new recipe, Sweet and Hot Shrimp Curry, is based on Panjabi's recipe for Shrimps in Sweet and Hot Curry.  My changes mostly involve some changes in the amounts of various ingredients, but are substantial enough to make it a different recipe. 

Both of these recipes utilize something I recently picked up for the first time, tamarind concentrate.  Lots of Thai and Indian recipes call for soaking tamarind pulp in warm water and straining out the resulting juice (tamarind pulp itself isn't really edible, but the strained liquid has a distinct, sweet-tangy flavor).  I've always found that a bit of a pain, really.  The tamarind concentrate - more or less that same strained liquid, only thickened into a paste - allows one to skip that step and still get the same flavor.  I consider this a great find, personally.

I served the two dishes up with seasoned basmati rice (basmati prepared as normal, but with a large pinch each of garam masala and turmeric) and a pair of Indian breads.  Normally we have just been preparing frozen naan with our Indian meals, but last time we stopped by Maria Grocery and Gifts, Juli accidentally grabbed several packages of roti instead.  As it turns out, the round, whole-wheat roti are just as great as the naan we've been buying, so we plan to use both from now on, for variety.

The two dishes worked well together.   The soup was flavorful, but fairly mild, such that it might have seemed a bit boring on its own, but it perfectly complemented the bold heat and sweetness of the thick curry sauce that covered the shrimp.

Pumpkin and Red Lentil Curry Soup

yield = approx. 8 generous servings

1       pound masoor dal (split red lentils)
1       tablespoon butter
1       large onion, finely chopped
2       green hot chilis, minced
1       tablespoon grated ginger
1 1/2 teaspoons minced garlic
1       teaspoon ground coriander
1       teaspoon chili powder
1/2    teaspoon cumin powder
1       sugar pie pumpkin, peeled, seeded and strings removed
         (about 1 pound)
1       can (14.5 ounces) diced tomatoes
1/2    teaspoon salt
2       teaspoons tamarind concentrate
2       tablespoons lime juice
1/2    teaspoon garam masala
3/4    teaspoon ground cinnamon

Rinse the lentils, then set aside.

Bring 11 cups of water to a boil in a Dutch oven.  While the water heats up, heat the butter in a skillet over medium-high heat, then fry the onions and chilis until the onion is nearing golden-brown (about 6 minutes).  Stir in the ginger and garlic and cook another minute, then stir in the ground coriander, the chili powder and the ground cumin and cook for one minute more.

When the water has come to a boil, add the lentils, the pumpkin, the onion mixture, tomatoes and salt to the Dutch oven.  Return to a full boil, then reduce heat to high simmer and cook for about 45 minutes, stirring often. 

Remove the soup from heat, and puree about half of it, including all pumpkin chunks and large pieces of tomato, in a blender.  Return the puree to the Dutch oven and reheat to a low simmer.  Stir in the tamarind concentrate and lime juice, then pour the soup into a serving bowl.  Sprinkle with the garam masala and cinnamon, then serve.

If one wishes to make a complete meal of this soup, stir in an ample helping of rice.

Sweet and Hot Shrimp Curry

yield = 4 servings

4        green hot chilis, chopped
2        teaspoons minced garlic
1        teaspoon cumin seeds
2        tablespoons vegetable oil
1        large onion, finely chopped
1        teaspoon garam masala
3/4     teaspoon ground coriander
3/4     teaspoon chili powder
1/2     teaspoon ground cumin
1/2     teaspoon powdered turmeric
1        14.5 oz can diced tomatoes
1 1/2  teaspoon tamarind concentrate
1        teaspoon grated jaggery or palm sugar
10      curry leaves
1/4     cup coarsely-chopped cilantro leaves
3/4     teaspoon salt
1        pound shrimp, peeled and deveined

Grind the chilis, garlic and cumin seeds into a paste; set aside.

Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat.  Cook the onions until they are starting to brown.  Add the chili/garlic paste and fry for two minutes, stirring well.  Add the garam masala, coriander, chili powder, cumin and turmeric and stir constantly for 1 minute.  Add the tomatoes and fry for about 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. 

Stir in the tamarind concentrate, jaggery, curry leaves, cilantro and salt and cook for about 2 minutes.  Taste; adjust sweetness, sourness and saltiness to taste, if necessary.  Add 1/2 cup water and bring to a boil.  Add the shrimp and cook until they are done, stirring often.  Serve with rice and Indian bread.

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