As frustrating as dealing with my landlord can be (“I’ll maybe fix the peeling ceiling after the holidays,” oh and there might be mice as evidenced by the large trap placed right by a hole in the back stairway, and one running through the bedroom, that trap seems super helpful), one of the things I love about where I live is the neighborhood. And specifically, the middle eastern bakery/grocery that’s a ten minute walk up the street. They do amazing, cheap hand pies that are great for lunch or breakfast, wonderful sides (dolma! baba ghanoush! pita!), they have a small fuckton of spices, and they have a lot of reasonably priced staples. Like say, the black lentils that are central to this recipe.

This is a simple, cheap, low energy, but amazingly filling recipe. I’ve been perfecting it over the last few months to my and boything’s taste, and the recipe as I have it currently is beyond perfect. My spices are a bit more haphazard than the ingredients list below suggests in terms of amounts, but I promise you you can adjust this to your own taste, easy. Throw this on the stove while a Destiny 2 or Overwatch session is going on, and voila.

Punjabi-Style Black Lentils
Makes enough for two and then a little meals for two

Ingredients

  • 2 T ghee (regular butter or oil also acceptable)
  • 1 medium onion, finely chopped
  • .5 T ground cumin (original says seeds, I went with what I have on hand for simplicity)
  • 1 in piece of ginger, grated (original says finely chopped, I go with the ginger grating trick mentioned earlier in the blog these days
  • 5 garlic cloves, finely chopped
  • 1 T ground coriander
  • 1 t ground tumeric
  • 1 T garam masala (usually more)
  • pinch ground chile powder
  • 1 can diced fire roasted tomatoes
  • 1 t sea salt, plus more to taste
  • 1 c dried black lentils
  • 3.5 c water (reduced from original recipe bc now I just use a whole can of diced fire roasted tomatoes, which is an extra cup up from the original recommended amount
  • 4 t salted butter
  • 2 T heavy cream (can be omitted if people don’t like it)

Over medium heat, melt your ghee. Once warm, add the onion and cumin, and cook, stirring occasionally, until the onion is lightly browned in places (pic 1). Add in the ginger and garlic, cook 1 minute more until fragrant, and then add the remaining spices (pic 2) and can of tomatoes (pic 3), and cook 3 more minutes, scraping up any bits that may be stuck to the pot. Add the salt, water, and then the lentils. Bring to a simmer, and then reduce the heat to low, and cover the pot. Cook 35 to 45 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the lentils are tender (see pic 5). If you want a looser dal, add more water. Adjust the spices and seasoning to taste.

To finish, ladle the dal into the bowl, add 1 t butter and .5 T heavy cream, and stir in to melt (see pic 6).

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Butter chicken is one of my favorite things to make. Cheese is also another favorite thing of mine. So, when I originally found this recipe, I thought it would be neat to try a variation. However, when it finally came time to make it, I realized that I hadn’t gotten everything like I thought I had, and a few things were missing in my pantry, and I was kind of hilariously broke, so going and getting the proper ingredients wasn’t an option. My solution was to try and meld elements of the first recipe with the recipe I already use for butter chicken, and see what I got.

The result is probably going to be my default recipe for butter anything now. It’s a perfect blend of spice and creaminess, and perfectly filling, too. And, if you have a well stocked pantry, all you should need to pick up is the cheese, the diced tomatoes and tomato paste, and maybe the whipping cream and greek yogurt, for a ridiculously cheap dish. I’m also kind of ridiculously proud of how this turned out, as this is my first real attempt at cobbling together a recipe to make my own.

Butter Paneer
Lasts four meals

Ingredients

  • 2 T olive oil (ghee if you can find it)
  • 1 14 oz block paneer cheese, cubed
  • 3 large cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 T fresh ginger, peeled and grated
  • 2 t curry powder 
  • 2 t Thai red curry paste
  • 2 T garam masala
  • .5 t tumeric
  • pinch cayenne
  • pinch sea salt
  • 5 T butter
  • 1 6 oz can tomato paste
  • 1 15 oz can diced tomatoes
  • 1 T honey
  • 1 c heavy whipping cream
  • .25 c greek yogurt

Heat your olive oil in a pot over medium. Take your paneer cubes, and fry in the pot until they turn a nice golden brown on each side (see picture 2). Remove the paneer from heat once it’s done, and put it in a nice bowl to sit while the rest cooks.

Add a bit more olive oil and your garlic and ginger to the pot, cooking until fragrant (a few minutes tops), and then add your curry powder and paste, garam masala, tumeric, cayenne, and sea salt, and stir into the garlic and ginger, cooking a few minutes until it starts to smell really good. Then, add your butter, and melt it in the pot. As soon as the butter melts, add the tomato paste, diced tomatoes, and honey, and stir until combined. Simmer for twenty minutes, until the color becomes a nice, deep red (see picture 5), and stir occasionally. Then, add your heavy whipping cream and greek yogurt, and stir until combined, simmering another twenty minutes and stirring occasionally.  Then, add in your paneer, and stir for about five minutes, so that it warms through. 

Pick up some naan for dipping, and enjoy your ridiculously awesome dish. 

I came across this dish a few weeks ago, and as I could find everything in it for relatively cheap this time of year, I decided hey, why not? This is a wonderfully spiced, fantastically vegetarian, and if you buy everything at the right time and have a well stocked spice cabinet, cheap recipe. Honestly, the most expensive part of this dish was the eggs, and that was because I bought them from the farmer’s market.

Don’t know what garam masala is, or your local grocery store is overcharging for the mix? No problem!  The blend that I used a while ago for making garam masala gingerbread (and still had leftovers of) mixed the following:

  • 1 T cumin
  • 1.5 t coriander, cardamom, black pepper
  • 1 t cinnamon
  • .5 t ground cloves, nutmeg

The above blend yields .25 c of spice mix, which means there’ll be plenty leftover for another day 

Indian Spiced Tomato and Egg Casserole
Lasts appx 4 to 5 lunches as a main

Ingredients

  • 1.5 lbs fingerling potatoes
  • sea salt and pepper
  • .25 c olive oil
  • 1 yellow onion, diced
  • 1 poblano pepper, seeded and finely chopped
  • 2 jalapeno peppers, seeded and finely chopped
  • 2 T finely chopped peeled ginger
  • 4 garlic cloves, finely chopped
  • 1 t ground cumin
  • 1 t garam masala
  • .5 t ground coriander
  • 1 28 oz can whole peeled tomatoes
  • (original recipe recommends fresh mint and cilantro or basil, I went with dried for both as it’s the dead of winter, probably about 4 T dried mint and 1 T dried cilantro)
  • 6 eggs

Place your potatoes in a large pot with heavily salted water, and bring to a boil. Reduce to a simmer, and cook for twenty minutes, until your potatoes are fork tender.

While your potatoes boil, in another pan, heat your olive oil over medium high, and add your onion, cooking until it’s tender (about 5 minutes).  Then add your peppers, and cook another three minutes, followed by your ginger, garlic, cumin, garam masala, and coriander, cooking until fragrant (about a minute). Then, reduce the heat to medium low and add your tomatoes and a pinch of sea salt, and cook for fifteen minutes, using your spatula to break down the tomatoes as you cook. If you time this right, you should be able to time the fifteen minutes to the last fifteen minutes of the potatoes cooking. Remove from heat once they’re done, and stir in the mint and cilantro. As soon as the potatoes and tomatoes are done, preheat your oven to 375.

Once your potatoes are done, drain them and let them cool. Once cool enough to handle, slice the fingerlings into half-inch slices, and layer on the bottom of your casserole dish or 9" square glass baking pan in a single layer.  Pour the hot tomato sauce over the potatoes, and bake for twenty minutes.

After twenty minutes, make six wells in the tomato sauce, and crack your eggs into them. Season with sea salt and pepper, and bake for another 8 to 13 minutes, depending on how done you want your eggs. 10 minutes gave me set whites, and still runny yolks, which is just how I like them.

The final pic is how it looks transferred to a container for keeping in the fridge, and how it’ll look once served, but trust me, it’s still quite fantastic.

Gulab jamun are a pretty fantastic snack.  The last time I tried to make these (a bit over two years ago), they didn’t turn out so well (just a soft mess of soaked dough), but I think this time I’ve got them figured out pretty well.  The balls look a bit overdone, but trust me, they’re not burned.  I’ve seen these in both Jewish and Indian restaurants, but this is the first time I’ve actually been able to get something close to what I’ve had at home.

Gulab Jamun
Makes about 15 to 20 balls, depending on size

Ingredients

Dough

  • 1 c nonfat dry milk powder
  • .25 c flour
  • .25 t baking soda
  • 3 T butter, melted and cooled (you could also probably use browned butter)
  • .25 c milk
  • vegetable oil for frying

Syrup

  • 2 c dark brown sugar (you can also use white or light brown)
  • 2 c water
  • ground cardamom to taste
  • (optional: rose water, if you have it on hand)

To make your dough, mix the dry ingredients together, and then add the melted cooled butter, mixing together until the dough is crumbly (see picture one). Slowly pour the milk over the crumbs, and then mix together until the dough just barely comes together. Knead briefly until the dough is smooth (whoops, forgot this bit. Still worked, though). Divide the dough into equal, ping pong sized balls (you’ll get about 15 to 20 out of the dough).

Heat an inch of vegetable oil in a pot over medium high. You’ll know it’s ready when you put in a small bit of dough and it starts to easily fry.  Add your dough balls and turn frequently, until they’re golden brown (usually takes about four minutes). Fish them out with a mesh strainer to drain most of the oil off the balls, and then let them rest in a small bowl to cool.  (I couldn’t quite get them out of the oil easily, so mine were a bit on the darker side, but not burned.)

To make the syrup, mix the water and sugar together over low heat until the sugar is completely dissolved. Increase the heat to medium, and cook, stirring frequently, until the mixture has thickened.  (The original recipe recommends heating until a candy thermometer registers 225, but I don’t have one. The best you can do if you don’t is eye it.)

Stir the cardamom in once the syrup has thickened, and keep it at the simmer. Add the balls in, and let them soak until they’re soft and moist. They will swell as they soak; mine almost doubled in size. (insert jokes here.)  Remove them with a spoon and then let them cool.  

If not eating immediately, pour a small amount of syrup in with the balls in the container, and save the rest separately. 

This is another one of the first dishes I learned to make living on my own, and it’s always been a staple for when I’m looking for something relatively simple, cheap, and spicy.  Realistically, the most expensive part of this will be the chicken, but if you can find chicken for relatively cheap and freeze it until you need it, I highly recommend going that route.  I will give you the given amount of spices for this recipe, but know that the version I cook now is a lot more approximate in its amounts, but the proportions are relatively the same.  🙂 

Butter Chicken
Lasts 5 to 6 lunches as a main

Ingredients

  • 2 lbs boneless chicken breasts, chopped into small (1 inchish) cubes)
  • 8 oz greek yogurt (you will realistically not find an 8 oz container, get 2 5.5 oz containers, and if you can’t find plain yogurt, look for honey or vanilla)
  • 6 large garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 t curry powder
  • 1 t coriander
  • 2 t cumin
  • 1 t chili powder
  • 2 t cinnamon
  • 5 T butter
  • 1 6 oz can tomato paste
  • 1 15 oz can diced tomatoes, undrained
  • 1 T honey
  • appx 2 t cardamom (original recipe recommends 4 cardamom pods, I’ve only ever had the ground stuff on hand)
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 1 c heavy whipping cream

Combine your yogurt, garlic and spices that start with c (except for cardamom) so that you have a uniform spiced yogurt, and then stir in your chopped chicken until it’s coated.  Put in a container and let sit in the fridge as little as 30 minutes (up to overnight; I will typically go overnight, for maximum flavor). 

In a pot, melt your butter over medium heat, and as soon as it’s melted, add your honey, cardamom, tomato paste, and diced tomatoes, stirring until combined and bringing to a light boil before simmering for 20 mins, until thickened and dark red (see pic 3).  Then, stir in your whipping cream and yogurt marinated chicken, until combined into an orangeish sort of sauce  (see pic 4). Continue to simmer for another 20 minutes, until your chicken is cooked all the way through, and then season with salt and pepper.

Enjoy with some naan, or, if you’re like me, after assembling a night stand with a friend and while watching Hannibal!