The Liquid Base
1 cup yellow, red, or pink lentils sorted and rinsed
1 medium onion, chopped
1/2 tsp ground turmeric
2 1/2 cups water
3 ripe medium tomatoes, peeled, seeded and coarsely chopped, or 1 1/2 cups drained and seeded canned tomatoes coarsely chopped
1 cup unsweetened coconut milk
1 1/2 tbsp butter or vegetable oil
1 1/2 tbsp Garam Masala or curry powder
1 tbsp salt (for boiling vegetables)
The Vegetables and Finishes
florets from 1 small cauliflower, center core removed
1/2 pound string beans preferably smal French haricots verts, ends broken off, and cut into 1 inch lengths
1 cup fresh peas
12 whole garlic cloves, peeled
leaves from one 10 ounce bunch spinach, washed and spun dry
1 regular cucumber, peeled, halved lengthwise, and seeded
12 pearl onions
1 medium sweet potato, peeled and cut into 1/2 inch cubes
1/2 cup cashew nuts
2 tbsp finely chopped fresh cilantro
1. Spread the lentils on a baking sheet and pick out anything that doesn't look like a lentil. Put the lentils in a fine-mesh strainer and rinse them thoroughly under cold running water.
2. Combine the lentils with the onion, turmeric, and water in a heavy-bottomed, non-aluminum pot and simmer gently partially covered, over medium low heat until puree tender, about 30 minutes.
3. Add the tomatoes and coconut milk and simmer uncovered until the mixture thickens, for 15 minutes more - stirring every few minutes so the lentils don't stick to the bottom of the pot and burn. Let it cool for 15 minutes and puree in a food processor for about a minute.
4. While the lentil mixture is cooking, bring about 6 quarts of water to a boil in an large pot with the salt for the cauliflower.
5. Heat the butter or oil in a small saucepan over medium heat and stir in the garam masala or curry powder. Stir over the heat for about 30 seconds, or until you smell the fragrance of the spices. Stir half the spice mixture into the lentil mixture. Taste the lentils - if they need more spice, add the rest. Season to taste with salt. Cover the lentil mixture and reserve.
6. Blanch the the cauliflower florets in the boiling water for 6 minutes, transfer them to a colander, and rinse with cold water. Reserve.
7. Using the same pot, boil the string beans until they retain the slightest crunch, drain, rinse, and reserve.
8. If you are using fresh peas, boil for two minutes in the same pot, drain, rinse and reserve.
9. Simmer the garlic for about 20 minutes until the cloves are completely soft when pierced with a knife.
10. Lastly boil the spinach for 30 seconds, then drain in a colander. Rinse with cold water; gently squeeze the water out of the spinach and reserve.
11. Cut each of the cucumber halves lengthwise in thirds, Cut the cucumber strips into inch-long sections. If you like, you can trip the edges of the cucumber sections in the same way as carrots to give them a more rounded look.
12. About 30 minutes before you are ready to serve the stew, start adding the vegetables to the lentil mixture. Add the pearl onions and sweet potato, and sinner over low heat, covered, for 10 minutes. Add the cucumber and cauliflower, and simmer for 5 minutes more. Gently stir in the rest of the ingredients and simmer 5 minutes more - just long enough to reheat the vegetables. Add more salt if needed and serve immediately.