This is the stuff of dreams – the charm and balance of a Thai curry with hardiness and heft of a Sunday stew. It’s amazing how much flavor is packed into a meal that requires very little prep, stove time, or cook time; a vegan meal to boot, one so delicious you won’t miss the meat. Massaman lentil curry makes a perfect weeknight meal in less than 30 minutes, it satisfies the fiercest of Thai cravings, and it’s a pantry meal, one so packed with flavor –delicious, dream of it later flavor-you certainly won’t believe the lentil curry got its start from a pantry.
In a desperate pantry rummage before dinner I find a jar of Thai red curry paste, a jar of roasted chili paste and a can of coconut milk-eureka! I immediately think curry (yeah, well, brilliant ideas have to start somewhere), but I don’t have Thai basil or my go-to proteins – shrimp, chicken, beef, pork, tofu- nor many vegetables except for a giant bag of carrots, one measly onion, and a bag of potatoes. As I turn to leave the pantry I notice lentils, lots and lots of lentils. I typically make Thai green or red curry but I learned in a Thai cooking class (in Thailand no less!) that massaman curry has potatoes and spices reminiscent of an Indian curry, curry-spiced lentils with red curry sounds good, so, BOOM, massaman lentil curry became a thing, and not just any thing, but a yummy delicious, mind just blown thang.
I plan to simply add curry powder alongside the red curry paste, call it a massaman curry and be done with it (keep it simple, right?), but my curry powder lists turmeric and I don’t want the bitter notes that turmeric imparts in the curry. So I pull out my trusty Thai cookbook from the cooking class. It says I should pound 2 bay leaves, a pinch of cumin, a pinch of coriander, 3 cardamom pods, a cinnamon stick, and half a piece of nutmeg with a mortar and pestle. Well, that’s not happening. So, I decide to follow the same flavor profile as the cookbook with the powdered stuff. I’m going along swimmingly until a spice rummage reveals I’m out of nutmeg. No nutmeg, Indian vibe, garam masala, sure. The cookbook also lists one tablespoon of finely chopped lemongrass. I love lemongrass and certainly would have added it to the pot if I had some, but, as I would soon learn, the dish is delicious as is, no lemongrass necessary.
Toddlers and babies inhale the curry, civilized people inhale it; anyone within smelling distance inhales it. Yet for all the inhaling that happens with this dish, like a magical ever-producing pot, there will be leftovers, wonderful leftovers that you can eat the next day for lunch or dinner. You can even put an egg on the leftovers and call it breakfast, the best darn lentil breakfast you could eat. Did you even know massaman lentil curry was a thing, much less a breakfast thing? Well, it is in our house, and it’s GOOD, unbelievably good any time of the day. This massaman curry may not be as magical as a vacation in Thailand and it’s probably not as good as homemade pounded with a mortar and pestle ( I would hope so if you’re going to go to all that trouble), but for a weeknight meal in under thirty minutes, a budget-friendly pantry meal that will be sure to produce delicious leftovers, a meal that people young and old will eat, a lentil curry no less, then I think that’s pretty darn magical.