It’s been just over three years since we traveled to East Africa. It was my reward to myself for completing school and on my way to becoming a self-sufficient adult. With family roots in Kenya, I had heard stories from family about spotting hippos in the water, the search for the elusive cheetah, and the lions that ruled over the animal kingdom. I was finally going to see it all for myself.
Our safari did not disappoint.
To know that a curious lion roaming outside our tent at night sounds like the deep rumblings of a car engine is an experience I am happy to hold. As it sniffed around our camp and near our heads, I was grateful that one week ago I picked up unscented deodorant instead of the grapefruit-scented kind.
We quietly watched a leopard move stealthily through the brush, licking its lips and eyeing our jeep. We sat, unflinching, and watched as he leaped onto a broken tree trunk and posed for us, leering at us for what felt like hours. We were powerless in front of this beautiful creature.
We gripped our seats as a lioness stalked a group of zebras, attempting to make one of them her dinner. The deafening sound of my heart pounding was all I could focus on as the adrenaline coursed through my veins. The lioness raced towards the unsuspecting zebra, a moment too late though, as the zebra moved out of her path. The other zebras taunted her as she panted, weak and tired now. We were conflicted by her failure, we should have felt happy for the zebras but we were oddly concerned for the fate of the lioness.
The day always ended with a celebratory meal. One of these days, we were welcomed back to the camp by a herd of elephants. As we crept up in our jeep we soaked in this bonding moment between mother and kin. We didn’t want to head back to camp; this was too good to be true. The younger elephants teased and toyed with each other. The older ones kept moving, knocking over trees and eating on the move. The elephants moved past us quietly – the sound of branches breaking under their massive weight was the only sound to break the silence.
Feeling energized and famished, we continued back to camp. We scrambled into the mess hall, already late for dinner but we didn’t care. We piled our plates high with chicken curry and rice, naan to sop up the sauce and a Kenyan beer to wash it all down. It was a celebratory night. We reminisced of what we just seen: the family of elephants circling our camp, the sleepy leopard in a tree that kept a watchful eye on us as we took our pictures, and the hippos that were floating in the pond, trying to stay cool in the 40F dry heat. We still had dust in our hair from the drive and our bodies were covered in a layer of sweat and dirt, but none of it mattered that night – we had shared these memories that would last a lifetime.
The food went down easy. It was hearty, fragrant and filled our bellies after a long day in the Serengeti. The days were hot, but the nights were cool, and the curry quickly warmed us up. It was filled with potatoes, chicken thighs and lots of vegetables. It smelled of cumin and cinnamon, and thickened with peanut butter. Yeah I said that! Peanut butter! It wasn’t sweet, it was just the unmistakeable taste of peanuts and warm spices that left us satisfied with a dollop of cool yogurt to sooth our taste buds.
We ate in the dark that night. We listened to the now-familiar night sounds: the distant roar of a lion claiming its territory, the hyenas laughing nearby, and the sound of branches breaking as the elephants continued on their trek. We pointed out constellations with ease and stared in awe at the Milky Way, clearly visible as a wavy white stream of light floating through the night sky, giving us our only source of light. We were full of curry and completely satisfied with what our trip had offered to us that day.
This lentil curry brings me back to that trip and that day especially. The smell of aromatic spices, cumin, cinnamon and garam masala, wafts through your nostrils, tangled in the rich taste of peanut butter and tomatoes. The yogurt offers a refuge to cool your tongue from the spicy curry base. Sop up the leftover curry sauce with warm naan and a few cilantro leaves. Top the curry with some crunchy, toasted nuts like almonds or cashews for added crunch and extra flavour.
- 2 cups of lentils
- 1 tbsp vegetable oil
- 1 cup chopped onion
- 4 garlic cloves, chopped
- 1 tbsp minced ginger
- 1 tbsp cumin powder
- 1 tsp turmeric
- ½ tsp chili powder
- 1 cinnamon stick
- 2 tbsp natural peanut butter (unsweetened)
- 2 cups vegetable broth
- 1 cup crushed tomatoes
- 1 cup water
- 1 tsp garam masala
- 9-10 okra
- 2 tbsp vegetable oil
- labneh (strained yogurt), cilantro and toasted almonds to serve
- Soak the lentils in water 10 minutes before cooking. Drain before cooking.
- Heat the oil in a heavy pan over medium high heat. Add the onions, garlic and ginger and cook until the onions become translucent. Add in the spices and cinnamon stick and cook for 30 seconds until fragrant. Stir in the peanut butter and cook for another 30 seconds.
- Pour in stock, tomatoes, water and drained lentils and simmer uncovered for 20-25 minutes until lentils are cooked through. Add in the garam masala and stir.
- Clean the okra with a damp cloth before slicing them.
- Heat 2 tbsp of oil in a shallow frying pan over medium heat. Fry the okra slices in the oil, being careful not to crowd the okra, about 1 minute on each side. Once okra begins to brown, remove from the oil and place on a plate to cool.
- Top the lentil curry with labneh, cilantro sprigs, almonds and fried okra slices. Serve with naan and extra cilantro.