Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Veggie Curries - easy cheap and yummy!

This is a great way to cook up basically any vegetable (or any combination of vegetables) into a really filling, satisfying dinner (also a good way to use up CSA vegetables that you don't know what to do with). I'm going to give my general method (learned from this old Time/Life Indian food cookbook from the 70s somebody gave us, it sounds dumb but it's really pretty authentic and well researched), and then I'll show you a couple of combinations I've done recently.

What You Need for a Basic Curry:

Lots of onions (2-3 large or more if they're small), chopped
Lots of garlic (4-8 cloves), minced
Lots of fresh ginger (1-2 inch piece),peeled then minced
Some green chiles (jalapenos, serranos), minced (with or without seeds depending on how hot you want it)
A large (32 oz?) can diced tomatoes
a tablespoon of tomato paste (if you have it*)
water or stock
cilantro (optional)
yogurt (optional)
lemon or lime (just a squeeze at the end, optional)

and either an already-mixed curry powder, or a combination of any/all of the following:
ground coriander seed
toasted ground cumin**
cayenne pepper
ground allspice (a bit)
ground cardamom (just a little)

Then you need veggies! Cauliflower, potatoes (parboiled or microwaved a few minutes, peeled and cubed), peas, zucchini, summer squash, chopped kale, broccoli, anything. As far as amounts go... go with your gut. As much as will fill your frying pan, really.

you can also add some cooked/canned chickpeas, or lentils, or what I did the last time was boil up some whole dried green peas (with chunks of ginger and a couple whole cloves of garlic).

What To DO:

Use a big, wide bottomed pan, the largest frying pan/skillet you have, the more frying surface the better. If you have ghee, you should totally use it, it is so delicious. I usually don't have any, so I use a couple tablespoons of oil and a couple tablespoons of butter (buttery flavor, but the oil helps keep the butter from burning at high temps). Heat it up nice and hot, and if you're using veggies like cauliflower, potatoes or squash, start by browning these (cut up into chunks). When they have some golden brown color, remove them to a bowl.

Make sure the pan has a generous amount of oil/butter still in it (add a little more if not), and make sure the pan is nice and hot, then add in your tons of onions. Let them cook down (give them a nice sprinkle of salt) and begin to turn golden (at least 10 minutes on medium-low heat). You can move on at that point, or you can continue till they get really brown, depending on the flavor you want. When the onions are how you like them, add the minced garlic, ginger and green chile. Fry until it starts to smell wonderful!

Now you add your spices - I tend to add 2 heaping teaspoons turmeric, probably almost a tablespoon toasted ground cumin, 2 teaspoon ground coriander, maybe a little cayenne pepper if you like it spicy, a little cardamom if you like, some allspice, and definitely black pepper. Throw the spices in the with onions, and fry it for a while, at least 5 minutes, on high heat, this really brings out the flavor of the spices. If you have tomato paste, add a tablespoon now, and let it fry a couple minutes, even turn a bit caramelized and brown (I don't add tomato paste very often, only because I don't always have it - it's great but not necessary).

Now add in your previously fried veggies, if you opted for them, and your chopped greens (you can include the stems), if you want them (kale, chard, spinach, beet greens, turnip greens, mustard greens, collards) (yummy yummy yummy greens!!!!!!), and cooked (drained, rinsed off if canned) beans if you want them. If you're going to add frozen peas (a lovely addition), you can wait till almost the end to add those. Fry everything together for a few minutes, and then add your can of tomatoes, and some water or stock to cover everything. Stir it around and taste it - season if necessary with salt and pepper.

Bring to a simmer, turn it down to fairly low heat, cover and let it go, for anywhere from 30 minutes to an hour, stirring occasionally. Now would be a good time to make some rice*** if you want. When the curry is done, you can stir in (off the heat) some fresh chopped cilantro, a 1/2 to 1 cup of plain yogurt (to taste), and a squeeze of lemon or lime juice (if you want).

Here's one I did with cauliflower and peas (to serve with some little lamb chops we got from our meat CSA). This picture is from before it simmered for an hour.

And here's one I made with those dried whole green peas (the drying made them act more like beans than peas), along with chopped kale and beet greens.

That's it! Have fun, because with onions, garlic, ginger, spices tomatoes and a mess of veggies, how can it go wrong?

*my dad has a tomato paste saving method that I used to think was bananas, and now know is completely brilliant. No one ever needs an entire can of tomato paste, right? So he cuts out little squares of plastic wrap, and makes these little tiny plastic wrapped packets of one tablespoon each and freezes them. I'm thinking of doing this with my recently opened can of chipotle, after pureeing it all up (adobo sauce and all).

**I learned this from my friend Emily's wonderful mama Alice (who in turn I think maybe got it from Madhur Jaffrey) - you should really take the time to toast your cumin seeds, it makes the most amazing difference to the flavor. I bought a big bottle and toasted the whole bottle at once, and then I grind it up in a mortar and pestle when I need it. I can't recommend this highly enough. Use a heavy bottomed frying pan over medium high heat, and be sure to stir or toss it around a lot. Keep it up till it starts to smell amazing - watch the color, it should be almost coffee brown. Get them out of the pan right away - they keep getting darker even after they're off the heat.

***This worked great for me:
1 cup basmati rice
1 1/2 cups water
1 tbsp butter
2 big pinches of salt
Rinse the rice thoroughly in cold water till the water runs clear. Bring the water to a boil in a saucepan, add the butter and salt and rice, shake it around to get the rice evenly distributed. Bring the water back up to a boil, cover the pan and turn the heat down to lowest, and set your timer for 17 minutes. When it's done, take the cover off, fluff with a fork, re-cover and let it rest about 5 minutes.

P.S. I made a quick cucumber salad to eat with the curry - quartered and sliced cucumber, thin sliced red onion, toasted ground cumin, salt, pepper and yogurt. If I'd had lime juice I might have added some.


  1. Absolutely fabulous-looking!! I, also, fry up some cumin seeds (as taught to me by an Indian friend many years ago), and your mix of spices was right on. (Much better than buying curry powder!) Thanks for all the great ideas and inspiration!

  2. Fun, I'm so glad! Let us know what veggie combinations you cook up!

  3. I needed to use up an eggplant, some wax beans, and some spinach, and I remembered this post. I turned out really well!! The only thing I didn't have was ginger, which I'll make sure to get next time.