What is curry exactly?
I’ve had curry powder in my spice drawer for years (not the same bottle, just to be clear). I think I’ve always assumed that curry was its own spice. Possibly a curry pod or a curry seed growing somewhere out there on a curry tree in Curryville.
I’m really not afraid to show my ignorance around here, am I?
Here is what I’ve since learned from our good friends at Wikipedia: Curry powder, and the English use of the word curry are Western inventions and do not reflect any specific Indian food.
And: Curry is a generic description to describe a variety of dishes from Indian, Pakistani, Bangladeshi, Sri Lankan, Thai or other Southeast Asian cuisines. The chief spices found in most South Asian curry powders are turmeric, coriander, and cumin.
I’m sure somewhere in the back of my brain I knew that curry was a spice combo. But turmeric, coriander and cumin? That, I did not know. I always have these spices in my posession, and never knew I was capable of making a curry something-or-other, like these which I make fairly often, if I happened to run out of curry powder.
I have this great Indian cookbook that was published in the late 70′s that I picked up at a garage sale for 60 cents last summer. I checked to see if they had anything to say about curry and oh yes they did. Apparantly, curry powder is virtually unknown in India but it can be used as a “short cut” to cooking Indian dishes.
A short-cut that we created to make things easier on ourselves? I’m good with that.
My experience with curry is somewhat limited. When I think of curry, I first think of one of my very favorite Thai dishes which is Green Curry Chicken. It is absolutely delicious in all of its coconut milk-y goodness. And then there is my other favorite, Jamaican Curried Goat, which I was introduced to by my friends Casandra and Ian. We pick it up every so often from this great little Jamaican place in my neighborhood, along with jerk chicken, peas and rice, meat pies and ginger beer. The curried goat is by far my favorite. Those meaty goat bones are slow-cooked in a delicious spicy curry sauce that oddly enough is exactly the same color as my yellow highlighter at work.
According to Ian, who is Jamaican, it’s appropriate to pick the bones up with your fingers to slurp the meat and sauce off of them, so of course I get right in there and slurp away and then wind up with glow-in-the-dark fingers for the rest of the night.
So worth it!
It took a true Jamaican to convince me to try goat, and THANK YOU IAN! I’m so glad you did.
Last week at work, my friend Megan told me about this great vegetable curry that she makes. It’s a Cook’s Illustrated recipe and she said that when she first tried it, she couldn’t believe how good it came out. I’ve said this before, but Cook’s Illustrated always delivers. It’s a test kitchen, so they figure it out and get it right. I don’t know about you, but I don’t have the time, money or energy to experiment with things over and over until I get it just right. They do.
So even though fall is here and I was already craving something warm and comforting, I think what really intrigued me about this curry dish was when Megan mentioned that cauliflower was a main ingredient.
Cauliflower stumps me.
I never know what to do with this stuff. Let’s see, there are 2 things I can think to do with it. The first one is the way my mom makes it which is to dunk it into an egg and Romano cheese batter, and then fry it in olive oil. This is delicious and as I type this I’m really craving it! I’ll make it someday soon and tell you more about it.
The second way, almost equally as yummy, is to cut it up and sauté it with lots of garlic, olive oil and Romano cheese. What can I say, that’s how we cook in our family; garlic, olive oil and cheese.
Anyway, I was excited about something new to do with cauliflower. This is also made with red potatoes and a serrano pepper for some heat, which was the perfect amount. Just enough to notice it, and not too much.
It also has chick peas, green peas and coconut milk in it, so you can imagine how good it is! Megan gave me the Cook’s recipe and I made it last Saturday night for Hadley, Katherine and myself. I improvised a bit, as usual because I like to taste as I go.
We had been at a soccer tournament all day and we were pretty tired when we got home (up at 5am to drive out to the land of cornfields and cows) and all I wanted to do was stay in and cook that night.
So while the girls were outside in the yard (one doing gymnastics, the other doing soccer ball tricks) I turned on my music, poured myself a glass of wine and started cooking. Ah….this really is one of my very favorite things to do in life.
I have to say, though, making this that night was a risky move. Considering it was Saturday night and I was dining with two almost 11-year olds, they are expecting pizza or pasta, not vegetable curry. I was too tired to care, so I just went with it.
I decided to get all the vegetables and spices ready first, so I washed, chopped, grated, grinded, minced, diced and sliced. Once I did this, the rest was a breeze.
First you sauté the minced onions and potatoes for a bit, then add the spices and tomato paste, and then throw in the cauliflower.
The two main spices are curry powder (well now we know that means 3 spices right there) and garam masala which sounds exotic, but can be found in the spice aisle of any supermarket. Garam masala is another one of those spice combos that is actually a mixture of black pepper, cinnamon, coriander and cardamom (news to me!). I’ve had some in my spice drawer for a while and never used it, so this was exciting.
Do you toast your spices before using them? I don’t, but I’ve learned that it really brings out the flavor so I will try to remember that. You throw the curry and garam masala in a dry sauté pan and heat them up until they are fragrant. This also makes your whole house smell like fall!
The rest is easy. You add the other ingredients and simmer away until everything is tender and delicious.
We spooned it over rice and then added some plain Greek yogurt on top which made it creamy and delicious! I threw some fresh mint on top of mine and it was perfect with the spices and the yogurt.
The curry was full of flavor from the coconut milk, the toasted spices and the green chili. And with cauliflower, potatoes and peas, who needs meat? It was hard for me to stop eating! You know when you spoon some more onto your plate…then a little more…then just a 1/2 a scoop more. Yeah, that was me.
And what do you know, Hadley and Katherine really liked it too. They didn’t complain when they sat down to dinner and they ate it right up. I think they liked the whole yogurt-thing on top, which was fun and yummy. They both had seconds and that is always a good sign so hey, I was happy. :-)
I have one more thing to say to my brother who adamantly told me last night that he “doesn’t like curry”, and I could absolutely not convince him to give it another chance:
Try this! Trust me! You will love it!
Yes I am having the last word on this, which is almost as satisfying as the vegetable curry.
Vegetable Curry with Cauliflower, Potatoes and Peas
Inspired by Cook’s Illustrated
2 tbsp curry powder
1 1/2 tsp garam masala
1/4 cup vegetable oil
2 onions, minced (about 2 cups)
12 oz. red potatoes (about 2 medium), cut into 1/2-inch pieces
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 Tbsp. grated fresh ginger
1 serrano chile, ribs, seeds, and flesh minced
1 tbsp tomato paste
1/2 medium head cauliflower, trimmed, cored, and cut into 1-inch florets (about 4 cups)
1 (14.5 oz.) can diced tomatoes, pulsed in a food processor until nearly smooth with 1/4-inch pieces visible
1 1/4 cups water
1 (15-oz.) can chickpeas, drained and rinsed
1 1/2 cups frozen peas (8 oz.)
1/4 cup coconut milk
Condiments: Plain whole-milk yogurt, chopped fresh mint if you like it.
Toast the curry powder and garam masala in a small skillet over medium-high heat, stirring constantly, until the spices darken slightly and become fragrant, about 1 minute. Remove the spices from the heat and set aside.
Heat 3 Tbsp. of the oil in a large Dutch oven over medium-high heat until shimmering. Add the onions and potatoes and cook, stirring occasionally, until the onions are caramelized and the potatoes are golden brown on the edges, about 10 minutes. (Reduce the heat to medium if the onions darken too quickly.)
Reduce the heat to medium. Clear the center of the pan and add the remaining 1 Tbsp. oil and the garlic, ginger, chile and tomato paste; cook, stirring constantly, until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add the toasted spices and cook, stirring constantly, about 1 minute longer. Add the cauliflower and cook, stirring constantly, until the spices coat the florets, about 2 minutes longer.
Add the tomatoes, water, chickpeas, and 1 tsp. salt; increase the heat to medium-high and bring the mixture to a boil, scraping the bottom of the pan with a spatula or wooden spoon to loosen the browned bits. Cover and reduce the heat to medium. Simmer briskly, stirring occasionally, until the vegetables are tender, 10 to 15 minutes. Stir in the peas and the cocunut milk; continue to cook until heated through, about 2 minutes longer. Adjust the seasoning with salt and serve immediately. Pass the yogurt and fresh mint.
I threw a bit more curry powder in mine, just a few shakes.