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Food For Thought Curry

Serves 4

© by Christian Lalonde

Gluten-free, dairy-free and vegan, this nourishing dish was created out of necessity and started a movement that continues to feed people in need in Canada’s capital city. Writes Chef Joe Thottungal, owner of Ottawa restaurants Coconut Lagoon and Thali: “When the pandemic first shut us down, we were left with fridges filled with fresh produce. We called our friends at the Ottawa Mission and their response was to donate many bags of red lentils. What else to do but feed people? This was the curry that launched the Food for Thought charitable initiative, serving the food insecure in our community, who suffered so much from the lockdowns.


  • Red Lentils 1 cup, rinsed
  • Salt 1 Tbs, plus extra to taste
  • Ground Turmeric 1 tsp, divided
  • Vegetable Oil 3 Tbs
  • Black Mustard Seeds 1 1/2 tsp
  • Cumin Seeds 1 1/2 tsp
  • Dried Red Chiles 3, snapped in half
  • Curry Leaves 15
  • Garlic 5 cloves, chopped
  • Indian or Thai Green Chiles 2, finely chopped
  • Onion 1/2, chopped
  • Carrot 1, cut into ½” cubes
  • Red or Yellow Bell Pepper 1, seeded and cut into ½” cubes
  • Chinese or Japanese Eggplant 1/2, cut into ½” cubes
  • Zucchini 1/2, cut into ½” cubes
  • Cauliflower 1/4, cut into small florets
  • Juice of 1/2 Lemon
  • Cilantro coarsely chopped, for garnish

Cook It

  1. In a heavy-bottomed saucepan, combine lentils, salt, and 1/2 tsp turmeric. Pour in 4 cups water and bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce heat to medium and simmer, uncovered, for 8–10 minutes, until lentils are soft but still hold their shape. Remove from heat and set aside.
  2. While lentils are cooking, prepare the seasoning. With measured spices and aromatics nearby, heat oil in a large frying pan or wok over medium-high heat, until oil is shimmering. (To test the heat, add a couple of mustard seeds. If they start to sizzle, the oil is ready.) Reduce heat to medium, add mustard seeds, and crackle them for just a few seconds until popping subsides. Immediately add cumin seeds, red chiles, and curry leaves and sauté for another minute. Add garlic, green chiles, and onions and sauté for 7 minutes, or until onions are softened and translucent. Add the remaining 1/2 tsp turmeric and mix well.
  3. Add vegetables and sauté for 8–10 minutes, or until softened. Add mixture to pot of lentils and heat through over medium heat. Stir in lemon juice and cilantro and season to taste.
  4. Serve with parathas and chutney.

Excerpted from My Thali: A Simple Indian Kitchen by Joe Thottungal with Anne DesBrisay. Photography by Christian Lalonde. Copyright © 2023 by Thali Restaurant. Excerpted with permission from Figure 1 Publishing. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.