I've heard many times that vegetarian Indian food can be very easy and cheap to make. I happen to love Indian food, and would be really excited to be able to make it, especially easily and cheaply. (I mean, what's not to like?) So this weekend, I googled around to try to find some easy recipes for daal (lentils) and aloo saag (potatoes & spinach). I read several of these recipes, and then suddenly they all kind of gelled together and I realized I didn't need a recipe. Or at least it felt that way.
So I got some things at the grocery store (Walmart, actually; I can't bring myself to pay grocery store prices these days) and tonight I made my food, roughly as follows:
1 lb. lentils
1/2 large white onion, diced fine
1/2 clove garlic, chopped
1 can tomato paste (the usual small size)
vegetable broth (about 4 cups, from a box)
spices including chili powder, cinnamon, cumin, cardamom pods, cloves, etc.
I put butter and olive oil in the pan, cooked the onions and garlic at high heat, then put in the spices and stirred everything around in the spice paste until it seemed like going any longer would burn things. Then I put in the broth and tomato paste, and the lentils. I just cooked those forever (they took way longer than I expected!), adding more water as necessary, until they were done
4 small red potatoes, cut into bite-size pieces
1 large bag of frozen cut leaf spinach
1/2 large white onion, diced
1/2 clove of garlic, chopped
spices including garam masala (2T), chili powder, and crushed red pepper
I again started with butter and oil, and cooked the onion and garlic in that, and then added the spices, making a paste. I pre-boiled the potatoes (before starting with the skillet part, of course), let them air dry pretty well, then tossed them into the hot skillet with the spice paste. That mixture was a little bit dry, so I kept adding little bits of water to keep everything going. Once I thought the potatoes might have a nice crisp on them (they didn't, really, but whatever), I put in the frozen spinach and a bit more water, and just let that cook down, and then I salted the whole thing.
The lentils tasted amazing all along, but the potatoes & spinach scared me because they smelled extremely much like pumpkin pie, and I didn't want to taste it. I don't usually like it when savory foods go in too much of a sweet direction. But when I did finally taste a potato, my GOD! They were fantastic! Now maybe you just can't screw up potatoes, but the spinach in there was wonderful and...wow, it was just a great dish.
For dinner I had everything, with some brown rice under the lentils. It was really amazingly good, satisfying. I'm afraid of how much leftovers I have (a really enormous amount), despite the fact that Ed also dined on my stuff. The lentils were were well spiced, but very mild (of course), and the aloo saag actually succeeded at being slightly spicy. It wasn't Indian food like you'd have in a restaurant, and it probably would have been more Indian-tasting if I'd put in some cream, but it was recognizably Indian in its general flavor profile. So I have to agree with others: vegetarian Indian food is easy and cheap to make.