This dish, full of lentils, chunks of paneer (an Indian farmer cheese), roasted butternut squash and spinach, is so hearty and flavorful, you won't notice it's vegetarian. Its spice foundation includes well-known curry spices and a Kashmiri paste made from red chilies, tamarind, ginger and garlic.
A good substitute for paneer is queso blanco, a Central American semi-soft curd cheese, available in most grocery stores.
Kashmiri paste is also available in many grocery stores. A good source of all Indian ingredients is Patel Brothers markets in Virginia and Maryland.
Make Ahead: The chili can be made a couple of days in advance without the paneer and then reheated, with the paneer added just before serving. It can be frozen (also without the paneer) for up to three months.
- For the spice paste
- 1 teaspoon fenugreek powder
- 1 teaspoon ground turmeric
- 2 tablespoons garam masala
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- 6 ounces canned tomato paste
- 1/4 cup Kashmiri paste, such as Tiger Tiger brand
- 4 cloves garlic, chopped
- 1 tablespoon peeled, grated ginger root
- For the chili
- 3 tablespoons canola oil
- 4 cups diced yellow onion (from 2 to 3 large onions)
- 1 tablespoon black sesame seeds, plus 2 teaspoons for garnish
- 28 ounces canned whole peeled plum tomatoes, preferably San Marzano, crushed with your hands, plus juices
- 1 3/4 cups (11 ounces) red lentils, picked over and thoroughly rinsed in cool water
- 8 cups homemade or no-salt-added vegetable broth
- 1 cup heavy (whipping) cream
- 1 teaspoon salt, plus more for the squash
- 8 ounces chopped fresh spinach (4 cups, packed)
- 1 pound peeled, seeded butternut squash, cut into 1-inch cubes (4 cups)
- 4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, melted
- 16 ounces paneer or queso blanco, cut into 1-inch cubes (about 2 cups)
- 2 cups plain yogurt, for garnish
- 1 cup chopped cilantro, for garnish
- Freshly ground black pepper
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.
For the spice paste: Combine the fenugreek, turmeric, garam masala, salt, pepper, tomato and Kashmiri pastes, garlic and ginger in a medium bowl.
For the chili: Heat the oil in a heavy-bottomed Dutch oven over medium-high heat until the oil shimmers. Add the onion and sesame seeds and cook, stirring occasionally, until the onion starts to brown, 5 to 7 minutes. Add the spice paste and cook for 2 minutes, stirring constantly. Add the tomatoes and cook for 1 minute. Transfer the mixture to a bowl.
Return the same pot to the stove. Add the lentils, broth, cream and salt and bring the mixture to a boil over medium-high heat. Cook for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the lentils are soft. Stir in the chili mixture. Reduce the heat to medium and cook for 20 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add the spinach and cook for 5 minutes, until the spinach wilts.
While the lentils are cooking, roast the squash: Line a baking sheet with aluminum foil. Place the squash pieces in a large bowl and season them with salt and pepper, then stir in the melted butter and toss to coat the squash. Transfer to the prepared baking sheets and bake for 20 minutes, until the squash has softened but is still slightly firm.
Stir the squash into the chili, then stir in the paneer. Taste, and adjust the seasoning as needed. Serve immediately, garnished with yogurt, chopped cilantro and black sesame seeds.
From The Process columnist David Hagedorn.
Tested by David Hagedorn.
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