Hearty Blue Mountain cabbage and tomato stew

Julie Sahni's Red lentil and cabbage stew

The other week, a friend gave me a large, organic cabbage because she already had more cabbage than her family could eat. I got it home and I was temporarily at a loss about what to do with all this cabbage so, of course, I Googled “best cabbage recipes” and got a whole slew of different cabbage recipes. Then, last Sunday, I made Osaka-style cabbage pancakes: Okinomiyaki, which were very good slathered with Tonkatsu sauce, mayonaise and toasted nori and sesame seeds. Still, I had a whole heap of cabbage left but then I remembered this simple cabbage and legume stew from Julie Sahni, a recipe of her grandmother’s from the Blue Mountains (Nilgiri Hills) in Tamil Nadu.

Red lentil and cabbage stew

I often used to make this stew many years ago when I lived in Melbourne and I would serve it simply with a dollop of yoghurt and some rye bread on the side. I lived in East St Kilda and good rye or black bread was readily available from the local milk bar, so I considered this stew, with its emphasis on cabbage, something of an East-European/Indian fusion. The only difference I made to the original recipe was instead of fresh coriander, I would always garnish the stew with dill.

It’s a lightly spiced stew that really allows the vegetables to shine. It makes a lovely simple one-pot meal or can be expanded to make a more elaborate dinner.

Julie Sahni's hearty red lentil and cabbage stew #vegan

Hearty Blue Mountain cabbage and tomato stew

From Julie Sahni’s Classic Indian Vegetarian and Grain Cooking

Serves 4–6

  • 1 cup yellow lentils (toovar dal) or red lentils (masar dal)
  • 3 cups of water
  • ¼ teaspoon tumeric
  • 350 grams (¾ pound) of fresh tomatoes or 1 x 400 grams of canned tomatoes (coarsely chopped)
  • 8–12 curry leaves (optional)
  • 4 tablespoons of light olive oil
  • 1½ teaspoons black mustard seeds
  • ½ teaspoon fenugreek seeds (optional)
  • 1 tablespoon of curry powder
  • 1 medium sized onion cut into 2 cm (1 inch) pieces
  • 700 grams (1½ pounds) cabbage, stem and tough leaves removed chopped into 2 cm (1 inch) pieces
  • 2 teaspoons of coarse salt, or to taste
  • 3–4 tablespoons of chopped fresh coriander or dill
  • 3 tablespoons usli ghee or sweet butter
  1. Clean and rinse lentils in several changes of water. Place lentils in 3 litre pan, add 3 cups of water, tumeric and bring to boil. Lower heat and simmer partially covered for 30 minutes or until lentils are cooked. Add more water if necessary.
  2. Add tomatoes and curry leaves and remove from heat. When lentil mix has cooled slightly, take out half the mixture and blend in a processor until smooth. Return to pan.
  3. Measure out spices, heat oil in a large pan (I use my 30 cm stir fry pan). When oil is very hot, add mustard seeds: when mustard seeds sizzle, add fenugreek cook for another few seconds until brown, then add curry powder, let sizzle and then immediately add cabbage and onion. Toss cabbage onion through spices until well coated, then turn down heat and cook vegetables uncovered for about 4–5 minutes, stirring so the vegetables don’t burn.
  4. Add lentil mixture to cabbage, bring to a boil, cover and simmer gently for about 20 minutes, or until the vegetables are tender but still have a bit of bite. Stir in the salt to taste and add some chopped coriander or dill. If desired, pour a teaspoon of usli ghee or butter on top.

Serve with bread or rice, yoghurt and pickle.

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