The healthiest, least authentic curry base sauce you’ll probably ever find, that will still leave you asking for more!
So I realise Jamie Oliver is not a curry expert (as has been pointed out by many commenters in this recipe). However you have to admit he has some damn good ideas on how to make complicated-but-authentic recipes a deeelicious reality at home. That said, I won’t mislead you – making this curry base sauce takes a bit of time, but it’s not hard at all, and I think it is super versatile. Plus if you make a heap of it, then you can freeze it in containers and use it like any store bought curry, but this one is not just delicious, it’s ridiculously good for you. The base sauce itself is almost a meal in a sauce – and a wholesome one at that. Red lentils, tomatoes, onion, garlic, coconut milk, spices, and more veges. These give the sauce a thick, rich body without being mostly cream, and a wonderful depth of flavour. Even after making curries with plenty of cream or yogurt, this recipe is going to be top of the list next time I make curry. The secret is that everything is pureed so even if you use the sauce just with meat, tofu or paneer, you’ll be getting some of your five plus a day with extra nutrients and protein from the lentils. Bonus!
If you’re really trying to eat healthy, add even more veges to your curry (I used purple cauliflower and silverbeet, but broccoli and cauliflower, or cauliflower and boiled potatoes, are delicious), and serve with brown rice. Alternatively, you can parcook some brown rice (just bring it to the boil), then add your rinsed white rice + extra water and cook like you’d normally cook white rice. This is a nice compromise – I find the brown rice adds a nice background flavour without being too fibre-y, and any leftover rice is still fine to use in fried rice the next day. Win win.
God, I sound like a dietician, don’t I?
Honestly though, I am totally making this curry again simply because it’s the yummiest curry sauce I’ve ever made myself (bar a fish curry that Ro and I made together), and it’s so straightforward. Also, for future reference, I’ll never post something that is healthy but I personally find yucky. Promise.
The following recipe seems super long just because I changed so much from the original that I’ve included lots of substitution notes. Basically I don’t use fresh ginger or coriander root or whatever, but if you do, you’re welcome to follow the original. Just thought I’d make a recipe for those with limited resources.
Jamie’s curry base sauce, further bastardised & made even simpler and easier
makes enough for 3-4 servings – my advice would be to double and freeze the rest for later use like store bought curry sauce!
You will need either a food processor or hand held stick blender for this. Both would be best though.
- about 50 dried red lentils (or split peas) + about 1 c water to cook
- 1 onion, large dice
- 1 large carrot, large dice
- red pepper, deseeded, quartered (I omitted)
- cooking oil (not soybean. I’d try a mix of butter or ghee and vege oil next time)
- 4 cloves garlic, peeled and crushed
- 1/2 tsp ground ginger, or 40g fresh, grated
- 1/4 tsp chilli powder or 1 fresh chilli, deseeded and roughly chopped (more if you want it spicier than mild)
- 1/2 Tbspn ground coriander (not referring to the leafy bit – but you can add the leafy bit too)*
- 1/2 Tbspn ground cumin
- 1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper
- 1/2 Tbspn cinnamon (I omitted)
- 1 tsp paprika (I used but I think you could easily omit)
- 1/2 tsp turmeric
- 1 Tbspn garam masala
- about 400g tomatoes (chopped, passata, or puree), or 400g fresh roma tomatoes, chopped
- about 200ml coconut milk (or 100ml coconut milk + 100ml water, or 100ml cream/milk/sour cream/yogurt + 100ml water)
- salt to taste
* For you American readers, NZers use “coriander” to refer to the ground seed and leaf. Yeah I know, you have an upper hand here, but I’m afraid “cilantro” will just get confused looks from a lot of kiwis.
One more note: feel free to tamper with the spice mix depending on what you have in your pantry, or based on a particular curry sauce recipe you like but want to make healthier.
Rinse lentils in a sieve. Add to a small saucepan with water, bring to a boil, then simmer 15-20 minutes until mushy (try a bit and it should not have any hard bit). Don’t be put off by its blandness at this point – the flavour kind of just disappears into the sauce.
Meanwhile, finely chop the onion, carrot, red pepper, garlic, chilli if using, in a food processor, or by hand. If you don’t have a stick blender don’t bother washing it out until after you’ve blitzed the sauce.
Heat enough oil (& butter/ghee if using) to just coat the bottom of a large saucepan, on low heat. Add spices and fry gently, stirring occasionally until fragrant. Add the contents of the food processor and fry until onions soften. By now lentils should be about done.
Add tomatoes and lentils (with their cooking water), plus another splash of water if the mixture looks drier than a thick soup. Cover, and simmer 30 minutes, stirring occasionally (scraping the bottom of the pan). Add coconut milk, bring to a boil and remove from heat. Blend the whole mixture until smooth using a food processor or stick blender. Add salt, taste, add more salt if necessary.
To make into a curry with stuff in it:
1. When initially making the sauce, if using a stick blender, I just add veges/tofu/paneer when I add the coconut milk. Once it’s brought to a boil if it needs extra cooking I just let it cook a little longer (this will darken the colour of the curry too, jut btw). If you want to use meat you could chop it into bite size pieces, sear it in a separate pan, then add at the same time as the veges. Up to you how you do it :)
2. Heat oil in a saucepan, add veges/meat to cook until half-done. Add sauce, bring to a boil, check meat/veges for doneness, and serve. If using tofu or paneer these can be added at the same time as the sauce (so if just using them, you can even reheat in the microwave!). If using a food processor when the sauce is initially made, just rinse out the pan you cooked the sauce in and cook the veges/meat in that. Remember to add delicate or leafy veges at the end with tofu or paneer (eg. bell peppers/capsicums, spinach).
1. Serve over rice with naan
2. Add to soup to boost the flavour profile (noodle soups too!)
3. Add to cream cheese to make a spiced dip for raw veges or as a spread on crackers
4. Add a little to fried rice
5. …your input please!
PS. Hope this makes up for all the decadent baking recipes I’ve been posting!
PPS. Continuing on my “share your lovely home made goods with awesome earthquake victims and volunteers” theme, this would be lovely to give to people who are too stressed to cook themselves a decent meal, but do have power and water. Spread the healthy love, people! <3