This recipe started out as a soup in my head, loosely inspired by the popular and traditional sandwich filling, Coronation Chicken. But the first time I tried it out, it came out as a spicy broth with chunks of chicken and sweet potatoes swimming in it. The thing is, it was perfectly nice to eat but it didn’t have the texture I was imagining. In my head, it had been a comforting soup, spicy and aromatic. I had the spicy and aromatic, but I was missing the comforting factor.
So I put this recipe away and decided to revisit it at a later date, which was this weekend when I had a moment of inspiration… Red lentils! This is what I would need to add to my soup to give it some bulk and make it comforting. I am a genius and the problem is solved… Except that I put too much red lentils in my soup and ended up with a stew… Sigh.
But wait! I served my soup-that-turned-into-a-stew to my 12 year-old, accompanied by some home-made flat breads and he wolfed it down, even said “it’s one of those recipes you’ll have to do again. Soon.” Seal of approval!
And actually, as I started eating and was readying myself for the disappointment of having yet again failed at making a soup, I realised that the stew I ended up with was spicy and aromatic AND comforting. Tick, tick, tick!
It is a recipe that is perfect for autumn, for when the days are becoming shorter and you can’t go out without wearing something with long sleeves anymore. It would be perfectly suited to being prepared in a slow cooker (providing you soften your onions and brown your chicken first.)
And it all starts with a spice mix of 11 spices (if you count black pepper as a spice…)
Spicy Chicken, Sweet Potato and Red Lentil Stew
For the Spice Mix –
2tsp coriander seeds
1.5tsp cumin seeds
¼ tsp mustard seeds
5 cardamom pods, split with seeds scraped out
½ tsp black pepper
¼ tsp ground nutmeg
¼ tsp ground clove
½ tsp ground turmeric
½ tsp ground ginger
¼ tsp ground Cayenne pepper
Toast the coriander seeds, cumin seeds, mustard seeds and cardamom seeds in a dry frying pan. Your seeds are toasted when they become very fragrant (around 50s-1min); some of the seeds will even start popping and jumping out of your frying pan so be warned! Your pan needs to be really hot so be careful as your seeds could burn easily; be sure to move them in the pan continuously.
Leave the seeds to cool for a little while then grind them in a coffee grinder or with a pestle and mortar.
Mix your ground seeds with the rest of the spices (cinnamon, black pepper, nutmeg, clove, turmeric, ginger and Cayenne pepper) and mix thoroughly.
You only need 2tsp of this spice mix for the following recipe, so you’ll have some leftovers. Simply put your left-over spice mix in a well-sealed jar for use at later date.
For the stew –
Ingredients (serves 3 or 4):
2tbsp olive oil
1 medium onion, finely chopped
1 red chilli, deseeded and finely chopped
375g chicken, diced
2tsp spice mix (see above)
80ml white wine
600ml chicken stock
2tbsp tomato puree
1tbsp apricot jam
½ tbsp mango chutney
100g red lentils, rinsed and drained
2 or 3 sweet potatoes, peeled and diced
30g flaked almonds, toasted
Heat the olive oil in a large saucepan, over medium heat. Cook the onion for 7-8 minutes until softened and translucent. Add the red chilli and cook for a further minute.
Increase the temperature to medium-high and add the chicken to the saucepan. Cook until sealed and brown. Add the 2tsp of spice mix and cook for another minute until the spices are fragrant (do not worry if your chicken catches a bit at the bottom of the saucepan; you need those brown bits to give your stew some flavour.)
Pour the white wine in and use it to deglaze your saucepan (the white wine will start to bubble and its natural acidity will help lifting those flavourful brown bits from the bottom of the pan; you can help the process along by gently scraping the bottom of the pan with a wooden spoon.)
Once you have deglazed your pan, add the chicken stock, tomato puree, apricot jam, mango chutney, red lentils and sweet potatoes. Mix thoroughly, bring back to the boil then lower the temperature back to medium and leave to simmer for 20 minutes.
Add the sultanas and leave to simmer for a further 10 minutes, until the lentils are cooked and the potatoes are fork tender.
Serve garnished with toasted flaked almonds and accompanied by Naan or flat breads (to toast your almonds, toast them for a minute or so in a very hot, dry frying pan, moving them often until they become golden. Once again, be careful; as your pan needs to be very hot, your almonds could burn easily so keep an eye on them.)
Sandra’s note: I should warn that this recipe is quite spicy and has a bit of a kick; I love spicy food and so does my son, but it may not be to everyone’s taste. In this case, please omit the red chilli in the stew recipe.
And yes, I know that I could have turn this stew back into a soup by adding more chicken stock J but I really didn’t want to be messing with the balance of flavours I ended up with. If you really wanted to make this as a soup, then use only 60-70g of red lentils but personally, I find it quite lovely as it is in all its stew-y glory… J