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Chicken and Lentil Curry

I seem to have lentils, those tasty little legumes, on the brain. And until making this recipe, I had them in the pantry too. They were leftover from making the Ultimate Veggie Burgers, palak daal, and a lentil soup or two. Generally, they’re a good thing to have on hand. Cheap, healthy, satisfying, and easy to prepare.

Chicken and Lentil Curry with Barley

Chicken and Lentil Curry with Barley

I’ve been thinking a bit about my vegetarian week experiment. As I told myself at the time, the goal was to incorporate some of what we learned while cooking veg into our routine. We’ve cut back on meat in general, using it as one of many flavors to season a dish rather than the main event at every meal. In that regard, I’ve been inspired partly by Almost Meatless: Recipes That Are Healthier and Better For The Planet and the authors’ Meat Lite posts on Serious Eats. The verdict is still out on the cookbook, as many of the recipes are a little too involved for quick weeknight meals, but the general approach to cooking is one I like.

For this recipe, I started with the America’s Test Kitchen recipe for Chicken Tikka Masala. Even though there’s nothing particularly unhealthy about boneless, skinless chicken breast that necessitates removing it, I wanted to see if I could cut back. So I replaced half the chicken with two kinds of lentils. The red lentils break down entirely during the cooking, thickening the sauce. The green lentils retain their structure, which provides a nice textural contrast in the dish.

Chicken & Lentil Curry
- serves 6-8 -

For the Chicken
1 lb boneless, skinless chicken breasts
1/2 tsp ground coriander
1/4 tsp cayenne pepper
1 tsp salt
1/2 C plain Greek yogurt (nonfat works just fine)
1 Tbsp vegetable oil
2 medium garlic cloves, minced or pressed through a garlic press
1 Tbsp grated fresh ginger

For the Lentils and Sauce
3 Tbsp vegetable oil
1 medium onion, diced fine
2 medium garlic cloves , minced or pressed through a garlic press
2 tsp grated fresh ginger
1 Tbsp tomato paste
1 Tbsp garam masala
1 (28-ounce) can crushed tomatoes
1 serrano chile
1 1/2 C water
3/4 C dried red lentils, rinsed
3/4 C dried green lentils, rinsed
2 tsp sugar
1/2 tsp salt
1 C half-and-half
1/4 C chopped fresh cilantro

1 For the chicken, combine cumin, coriander, cayenne, and salt in small bowl. Sprinkle both sides of chicken with spice mixture, pressing gently so mixture adheres. Cover the chicken and refrigerate for 30 to 60 minutes. In large bowl, whisk together yogurt, oil, garlic, and ginger; set aside.

2. While the chicken marinates, prepare the sauce. In a large Dutch over, heat the oil over medium heat. Add the onion and cook 8-10 minutes, stirring, until it just starts to brown. Add the garlic, ginger, serrano chile, tomato paste, and garam masala. Cook for about another 3-4 minutes, stirring, until the tomato paste begins to brown.

3. Add the crushed tomatoes, lentils, 1 C water, sugar, and salt. Bring to a boil. Reduce to medium-low, cover, and simmer for 20 minutes, stirring occasionally. This is a good time to turn on the broiler for the chicken.

4. After the lentils have been cooking for about 20 minutes, dip the chicken in the yogurt mixture and coat it completely. Broil until the thickest part is 160° F, about 15 -20 minutes, depending on your broiler.

5. While the chicken is broiling, keep stirring the lentils occasionally. If they get to dry, add the remaining water. Cook until the red lentils blend into the sauce and the green lentils are cooked. Ideally, the lentils will be done right when the chicken is, but whichever is done first can rest for a bit.

6. After taking the chicken out of the broiler, let it rest for about 5 minutes. Add the half-and-half to the lentils and sauce, and bring the pot to a simmer.

7. Cut the chicken into bite-size pieces. Stir the chicken and cilantro to the dish.

Serve with rice and chutney

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