Red lentil and tofu curry has been one of my staple quick lunches since I was living in Beijing. Ren lentils aren’t a common item in China, but I had found a package of organic lentils one day at a supermarket and decided to revive the oh-so-delicious dish that sustained me during my days as a penniless student.
For the past few years, I’ve made a big pot at least once a month. The firm pan-fried tofu mixed with the meltingly-tender lentils makes this the ideal dish for chilly weather.
Red lentils, despite the name, are actually pinkish-orange in color. They differ from green lentils in that they cook much quicker and become so soft they fall apart. The creamier consistency makes them perfect for curries. After some quick Googling I found a vegetarian recipe easy enough to fit into a hectic day.
If you only have 30 to 40 minutes or so to make a curry for lunch, this is a good bet. For a thicker consistency, use about 4 cups water instead of 5. I like to use cumin seeds because I can toast them and make a much more fragrant dish; however, if you don’t like whole spices in your food you can always substitute ground cumin. I love eating this over rice, but you can also try dipping it with pita or crusty French or Italian bread.
Red Lentil and Tofu Curry
- 1 medium onion or 3 large shallots, finely chopped
- 2 garlic cloves, minced
- 1-inch piece fresh ginger, peeled and minced
- 1 cup red lentils, rinsed and drained
- 3 tablespoons olive oil
- 5 cups water
- 1 pound extra-firm tofu
- 2 teaspoons cumin seeds, or substitute ground cumin
- 2 teaspoons curry powder
- 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
- 2 teaspoons salt, plus extra to taste
- Freshly ground black pepper to taste
- (Optional) 1 tablespoons fresh cilantro or parsley for garnish
- Heat 1 tablespoon of the oil in a large pot. Cook the onion, garlic, and ginger over medium-low heat, stirring, until the aromatic and the onions are softened, about 2 to 3 minutes.
- Add the lentils and water and bring the liquid to boil. Reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer, uncovered, until lentils are soft enough to fall apart, about 20 minutes.
- While lentils are boiling, rinse and drain the tofu. Trim the ends off and cut into 1/2-inch cubes. Gently press the tofu with paper towels to remove excess moisture.
- In a wok or large skillet, heat the remaining 2 tablespoons of oil over medium-high heat until hot but not yet smoking. Add the tofu cubes and leave them untouched for about 1 minute so they can lightly brown on one side. Then gently stir-fry for another 1 to 2 minutes. Add the cumin, curry, cayenne, and salt. Cook for another 1 minute, then transfer the tofu mixture into the pot with the lentils.
- Cook the curry for another 4 to 5 minutes to allow the flavors to meld. Adjust the seasoning with salt and pepper. Remove from the heat and garnish with cilantro or parsley if using. Serve with rice, pita, or crusty bread.
Adapted from Gourmet
Updated October 11, 2012. Original recipe posted February 28, 2008.