March 07 Newsletter Notes from the Tenzo

Oryoki Menu

  • 1st bowl: Fragrant Pulao Rice
  • 2nd bowl: Lentil Curry with Vegetables
  • 3rd bowl: Arugula, Fennel, and Orange Salad


  • Balsamic Vinaigrette
  • Soy Yogurt with Cucumber
  • Gamasio

This is a menu I like to use for a cold gray day during the fall or winter. It is colorful, moderately spicy and savory.

In this menu you will use the cooking technique of first flavoring the oil in which the food is cooked. Many Indian recipes have you cook or fry the curry first. The heat of this process helps to “bloom” or bring out the flavor, and the oil helps to disseminate the flavor more evenly.

Curry is the term applied to the blend of spices frequently found in Indian food. While there are some common elements, the flavor can vary greatly from one curry to the next, depending on the maker and the spices used. Try a few different ones. Find the curries that suit your taste for the kind of cooking you do.

For the first bowl, I would suggest using a Jasmine basmati, or long grain white rice. One cup of rice takes the following ingredients.

  • 1 small onion finely chopped
  • 1 or 2 tablespoons of oil
  • 1/2 inch piece of cinnamon stick
  • 1 small piece of bay leaf
  • 1 clove
  • 1 cardamom seed
  • 1 peppercorn
  • a few strands of saffron (for color)
  • a pinch of salt
  • 1 & ½ to 2 cups of water

Over medium high heat, place one or 2 tablespoons of flavored oil in the pot in which you will cook the rice.

Add the onion and saute’ until thoroughly softened.

Add the rice and continue to fry for 1or 2 more minutes, stirring to be sure you distribute the flavored oil thoroughly throughout the rice. Add 1/2 inch piece of cinnamon stick, a small piece of bay leaf, 1 clove, 1 cardamom seed, 1 peppercorn, a few strands of saffron (for color), a pinch of salt and 1 & 1/2 to 2 cups of water.

Stir, bring the mixture to a boil, reduce the heat to a simmer, cover and cook until the water has almost been absorbed but is not entirely evaporated. Remove the spices before serving.

If you would like to strengthen this subtle flavoring, try grinding the spices into a fine powder. Use a spice grinder, small food processor, or a mortar pestle. Cook or fry the spice with the onion before you add the rice. A word of caution: You can blend these spices according to taste but each of these spices has it’s own strong flavor so be careful with the amounts.

For the second bowl you will need:

  • 1 medium size onion, finely chopped
  • 1 - 2 tablespoons of oil
  • 2 tablespoons Curry spice
  • 1/8 -1/4 teaspoon cayenne
  • 1 - 2 cups of green or brown lentils, picked, soaked for 5 or 10 minutes, rinsed and drained
  • smoked paprika, optional
  • 1 medium size head of cauliflower, cleaned and cut into small pieces
  • 3 - 4 Sweet potatoes, (not yams) peeled and cut into 1/2 - 3/4 inch cubes
  • 1 - 2 large cans of roasted tomatoes diced, or if you like use 4 - 6 fresh, blanched, peeled diced stewed tomatoes

In a large, heavy pot, heat the oil over a medium high flame.

Add the onions and sauté them about 5 minutes, until thoroughly softened. Now add the curry powder and fry it, stirring constantly for 1 - 2 minutes. This would be the point at which you could add a little cayenne pepper if you like more heat, and/or the paprika if you like a smoky flavor. Season to taste; however, be careful with the amounts: both these flavors can overwhelm any dish, and either one is more interesting and savory when subtle.

Once your oil is flavored, and your spices cooked, add the remaining ingredients: the lentils, the cauliflower, the sweet potatoes, the tomatoes and their juice and stir to mix.

Add enough water to just cover all the ingredients and bring to a boil. (Note: it goes quickly if your water is already hot.) Reduce the heat to a simmer and cover to cook for 30 - 45 minutes, or until the vegetables are tender and the lentils are done. Check it occasionally to stir and to make sure there is enough liquid to finish the cooking process.

A few tips: This dish can be prepared in advance and will keep for a few days. Sometimes the flavor becomes more interesting when it has had a chance to sit and “meld” with the other elements. Be aware that when you reheat it you are continuing the cooking process. So if you have prepared the entire dish to be served in advance, you may want to stop the cooking a little before everything is done. Also, the vegetables in this dish can be changed and varied, experiment according to your own taste. In this menu the lentils make a nice complement to the rice in the first bowl for a complete protein.

Ingredients for the third bowl:

  • Oranges
  • Fennel

You may want to start with the oranges. I like to use navel oranges, because I don’t have to worry about the seeds, however any sweet citrus would do. Peel, clean and section them using whatever method you are most comfortable with. I prefer to cut them into sections using a larger sharp knife, cutting away and discarding the stringy center bit. Then using a smaller curved paring knife peel the skin and white pithy part away from the section. Set them aside.

Next clean the fennel. Cut away the dark green stalks and the root section from the bottom. If there any leafy sprigs you may want to rinse them clean and use them as garnish. Trim off any discolored areas. Cut the bulb from top to bottom through the most narrow side. Placing this cut side down you can cut thin even slices from the bottom to the top. Set them aside.

Now rinse the arugula clean and drain well. If the leaves are large you may want to tear them into smaller pieces. This is a salad I like to arrange in the serving bowl. Place the arugula in first, then the layer of chopped fennel and next the oranges.

For the dressing: the ratio of vinegar to oil is 1/4 or 1/3 vinegar to ¾ or 2/3 oil. Blend or emulsify them using a whisk in a bowl, a blender, or small food processor. Season to taste. Drizzle a small amount over the entire salad. Because balsamic vinegar is tart and sweet, it is better to use less. A little goes a long way.

For the condiments: raita is often served with curry dishes because the creamy texture of the yogurt with the cool flavor of cucumber complements the savory curry.

Use plain soy yogurt. After the cucumber is peeled, remove the seeds by cutting it in half lengthwise and using a teaspoon to scrape them out. Cut the halves into long 1/4 inch strips and then crosswise into 1/4 inch cubes. Add the cucumber to the yogurt. The proportion should be mostly yogurt, flavored with cucumber.

Until our next meal together,
eat well, practice good, and accomplish our Buddha way.

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