All of my ReciBEEs have a story behind them. Usually based on my memories, this is the first one I’ve created based on need. Here I sit cozied in our lovely home, a blanket of fresh snow covers the wet, cold, brown, March earth and seemingly; at least in here, by the fireside it is peaceful, beautiful, calm. While outside the world has flipped upside down. Covid 19. Corona. The new “C” word. Restaurants and shops are closed, we expose ourselves as little as possible, we stay close, we stay in, we think in terms of necessity. But we also crave comfort, warmth and connectedness.
The moments stolen around the dinner table together have become a gift. Bazz who is never home for dinner is home every night now. The kid’s usual craziness of school schedules and after school activities and weekend insanity of soccer and School of Rock has slammed to a stop. We come together, we huddle together, we lean on each other and yes, every single night we dine together.
I have established my own rules for stretching our food. While we have plenty of meat in the freezer, I have declared every other night a vegetarian night. I want things to last, to stretch, using less meat helps to do this and reaching for things that I wouldn’t ordinarily reach for helps me to stretch. Stretch as a cook, stretch as a creator.
The smells in my kitchen are being woven into what will be my children’s memories of this time. They are intrinsically connected to their experience of being 13 and 11 in this moment, in this kitchen, in this quarantine. Or as I am calling it, my “QuaranBEEn”.
My hands moved methodically through my pantry on Friday afternoon. Every shelf is organized, every canned good accounted for, every box of pasta counted. What was I making for dinner? I grabbed a bag of lentils, a yellow onion, reached for the tube of tomato paste, an idea was coming together. On a whim, when shopping in preparation for being inside for an indefinite period of time, I grabbed a few cans of coconut cream at Trader Joe’s. I was starting to feel that hum, that hum of creativity, that current of energy that I need to feel on a daily basis in my kitchen, cooking, creating and sometimes re-creating. Turning the music on, I began to cook.
That night at dinner, my husband Barry (Bazz) did not come up for air until he finished his second bowl. I leaned into him studying his handsome face.
“Was it good?” I asked. “Cause I teased it on Instagram tonight and told people that if it was good I’d make it for them on camera.”
“It was incredible. I swear your cooking has gotten better since this whole thing started. Cook it for them.”
That’s all I needed.
Late that night I lay in bed thinking about how precious lentils and coconut cream had become. Never had I had to cook like this in my life.
I scrolled through Instagram mindlessly, until I landed on one of my faves. She was cooking of course. I raised the volume and stopped scrolling, my mouth fell open. Padma Lakshmi was cooking a sweet potato lentil curry, too. I quickly clicked away. I was cooking this tomorrow for the camera; I didn’t want to be influenced in a world of influencers in this moment of trying to influence you. When I cook, when I write I need my own voice in my head, not the voice of anyone else’s. It clutters my brain, it makes me feel inauthentic. I didn’t return to watch the video or peek at Padma’s recipe until I had finished filming my own. And I love that there are similarities and distinct differences. I love that this white Jewish girl stood in her Westchester kitchen cooking Indian comfort food on the same night that Padma Lakshmi decided to make it in her own kitchen somewhere close by in Manhattan.
I have never felt more connected to people than I have over the past 10 days. I have connected more with my cousins, my brother, my children, my father and yes, even Padma Lakshmi, more than I have in a long time.
This virus has brought the world to its knees to some degree, but it has also brought us to the kitchen and to the dinner table. We are connected.
I’ll meet you back in the kitchen soon. Ok?
Padma LakshBEE’s Sweet Potato Curry (less) Lentil Curry
- 3/4 cup Dried French Lentils (see other options below)
- 1 can Coconut Cream, unsweetened (see other options below)
- 1 Small Yellow Onion
- 2 Cloves Garlic
- 1 Sweet Potato (see other options below)
- 2 tbsp Tomato Paste
- Few large glugs Chicken Broth
- 1 cup Jasmine or Basmati Rice (see other options below)
- Kosher Salt
- Garlic Powder
- Onion Powder
- 1 tsp Ghee*
- 1/2 Large Red Bell Pepper or any sweet pepper
- In a small saucepan, cover lentils with cold water. Allow to soak anywhere from 15 minutes to overnight.
- Drain lentils and rinse. Set aside.
- Chop onion finely.
- Peel and smash garlic cloves.
- Peel sweet potato and cut into medium sized cubes.
- Cut pepper into medium sized pieces to match the size of the sweet potato.
- In heavy bottomed, deep pan (click here for Jule's favorite pan), add a few glugs of olive oil and your ghee.
- Heat slowly on low / medium heat.
- Add onion, garlic, lentils, and sweet potato and sauté until onion is translucent.
- Add bell pepper continuing to stir.
- Add 2 tbsp of tomato paste, stirring to incorporate.
- Begin to season with salt, cinnamon, cumin, garlic powder, onion powder, paprika. I purposefully did not add specific amounts here. Season as you like. BEE unafraid!
- Add a few glugs of chicken broth and let simmer for a few minutes. Your sweet potato should have begun to soften. You can test it with a sharp knife.
- Spoon coconut cream into pan and stir to incorporate.
- Cover pot, allowing to simmer for 30 minutes.
- While it cooks, make your rice.
- Re season your curry(less) curry.
- Spoon over rice.
- Add cubes of fresh avocado on top (don't worry if you don't have it).
- Pour yourself a glass of wine and think of me and my bestie Padma when you close your eyes savoring each warm, earthy, flavorful bite.
- Lentils – any kind work, and if you don’t have lentils, you can use adzuki beans, peas, cauliflower, cauliflower rice, chick peas – anything goes, do not panic!
- Potato – I used sweet, but you can use a regular potato or no potato at all
- Coconut Cream – If you don’t have, don’t freak! Use 1/2 and 1/2, heavy cream, even unsweetened creamer.
- Rice – I served it over rice, but wanna use cauliflower rice? Knock yourself out, you skinny b*tch.
Illustrations by @courtneycoloring