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. 

This uses up the last of the diced pumpkin I had on hand, and let me tell you, it is a pretty spectacular dish. The original recipe has a LOT of additional bits and baubles, and some more obscure ingredients, so the version I cooked has some significant changes. If I ever find some of those ingredients, I’ll probably try again, but for now, the version I have is pretty damn good.

The one more obscure ingredient I will recommend getting is harissa – a local farmer’s market stand that specializes in peppers and spicy stuff had their own homemade version, so that was pretty easy to find for me. In case you don’t have something equivalent where you are, Smitten Kitchen has a harissa recipe that I will probably try out at some point; otherwise, try a Whole Foods or an online spice store. 

Pumpkin Chicken Tagine

  • 2 T olive oil
  • 1 lb boneless skinless chicken breasts, cut into bite sized pieces (mine was probably closer to 2 lbs, I used chicken I had in the freezer, 2 large breasts)
  • 1 onion, diced (I used half of a large onion)
  • 1 T fresh garlic, grated
  • 1 T fresh ginger, grated 
  • .5 t ground tumeric
  • .5 t ground cinnamon
  • .5 t ground ginger
  • .5 t ground cloves
  • .5 t cayenne pepper
  • 2 c chicken stock
  • 4 c pumpkin (about 2 lbs), diced
  • 2 c apples (about 3-4 apples, 1 lb), cored, peeled, and diced
  • 1 T harissa
  • 1 T honey
  • sea salt and pepper
  • (also recommended for the main recipe is .25 c dried cranberries, saffron threads and preserved lemon, I substituted a few squeezes of lemon juice for the lemon and forewent the cranberries and saffron EDIT: will probably add the cranberries back in next time I try this)
  • (additional optional items for garnish: .25 c toasted sliced almonds, 2 T chopped cilantro, .25 c yogurt, .25 c pomegranate seeds)

Heat your oil in a large pot over medium high heat.  Add the diced chicken, and brown lightly on all sides, and then remove and set aside. Add the diced onion and saute for about 5 to 7 minutes, until the onion is soft and translucent. Add the tumeric, cinnamon, ground cloves and ginger, garlic, fresh ginger, and cayenne pepper, and saute until fragrant, about a minute. 

Add in all of your other ingredients (the pumpkin, apples, chicken, honey, harissa, salt and pepper, and chicken stock), give it a thorough stir so it all combines, and let it come to a boil, before reducing to a simmer.  Cover, and simmer for about twenty minutes, until the pumpkin is tender. 

And then, enjoy your fantastic spicy fall stew, ideally with some couscous on the side!

So, yeah, there’s no nice way to cut this – as you get to the later stage of cooking this, this looks like baby poo, and it has about the same consistency, too.  But, if you can get over how it looks, it’s really quite good – I took a fingertip to the spatula after I containered it, and it tasted really good. This is a traditional Persian dish, and a bit of a branch out for me, but it seems like it’ll be pretty filling.

Mizra Ghasemi

Ingredients

  • 2 large eggplants
  • .33 c vegetable oil
  • 10 large cloves garlic, chopped
  • 1 t tumeric
  • 2 large tomatoes, peeled and chopped small (I will give you my tips for doing this in the recipe)
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 1 t tomato paste
  • 3 large eggs, beaten

Preheat your oven to 400 (mine was at 375 due to it running hot), put your eggplants on a lined baking sheet, and pierce them with a fork so that they don’t explode (you don’t want that). Roast them for about 40 to 45 minutes, until they look like picture 2.  Let them cool enough to handle, and then peel the skin away (or scoop away the cooked innards), and mash the flesh as best you can. I did this part two days ahead, and just threw it in the fridge, and the result was just fine.  So long as the eggplant is cooked, you should be okay.

Chop up your garlic cloves (recipe recommends 7, I went above and beyond because my love affair with garlic is well documented by now) while you heat your veggie oil in a skillet over medium heat.  Add your garlic, and cook until they’re golden brown, and add your tumeric, stirring until the garlic’s coated.  Then, add your mashed eggplant, and cook for about twenty minutes, stirring frequently for the first ten minutes to help it break down, but then stirring only occasionally after the first ten to allow it to cook.

While this is happening, you can peel your tomatoes! And trust me, there’s a way that’s a lot easier than you know.  Get a pot boiling with water, and cut a small x into the bottom of your tomatoes (I forgot to do this, but it still works even if you don’t do it). Stick your tomatoes in the boiling water for one minute, and have a large bowl or pot ready with ice cold water. Take your tomatoes out after one minute and dip them in the ice water; the skins will peel right away. (You can also use this trick to deseed them by cutting them in half after this and squeezing.)  Then take your peeled tomatoes and chop them up small.

After twenty minutes, add the tomatoes, tomato paste, and salt and pepper to taste, and stir well to combine (see pic 4). Cook for another fifteen minutes, stirring occasionally. 

Add your beaten eggs at the end of fifteen minutes and stir well, until you get the final picture, which is after about five additional minutes of cooking.  Yes, it looks like baby poo.  It tastes good, I promise.

For the record, my weekend starts as soon as I’m out of the office Friday.  😛  As such, let’s get some spicy chicken going on up in here!  Another recipe off of Budget Bytes, and again, for the most part, except for the chicken, coconut milk, and maybe the diced tomatoes, most of this should already be in your pantry!  Yay cheap meals!

Tumeric Chicken 
Lasts appx 4 meals

Ingredients

  • 2 T olive oil
  • Half of a large onion, diced (I used a cippolini, any kind you have on hand would work)
  • 1-2 inches fresh ginger, grated
  • 5 cloves garlic, minced (whatever amount works best for you, really)
  • .5 T tumeric
  • dash cumin and cinnamon and crushed red pepper
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 package chicken, diced (breast or thigh, I used boneless skinless thigh)
  • 1 15 oz can diced tomatoes (DO NOT DRAIN)
  • 1 13 oz(ish) can coconut milk
  • salt and pepper to taste

Take the onion, garlic, and ginger and olive oil and saute until onions are tender.  Add the spices and saute for an additional two minutes, and  then add the diced chicken and saute until cooked (7 to 10 mins).  Add the can of tomatoes and bay leaf, and then cover and let simmer for 30 mins.  After 30 mins, turn off the heat, stir in the coconut milk, and season with salt and pepper to taste.