Monday, March 28, 2011

Meatless Monday* - "From Scratch" Curry

From an early age, I knew that my family was a little different than others. For example, I never had broccoli with cheese as a child. I thought bulgur wheat was basically the same as rice (I mean, you can use it in all the same ways). And I loved to eat pickled herring straight out of the jar with my dad.

One thing that was a little different about my family is that we loved highly-spiced foods. A lot of our family staples were peppery, mustardy, or both. That's probably why quick curries are a staple of my own dining room. To me, a curry over rice (or bulgur) is all-American comfort food.

It's also super-easy to make. You can buy pre-made curries, sauces, and pastes, but those involve a lot of packaging and processing, and are completely unnecessary when you can easily master the basics of making a great vegetarian curry.

Below are some generic directions for creating curry from scratch. I'm going to be purposefully vague about ingredients, because you can make this with any of your favorite veggies. (The directions below are vegan, but can be lacto-vegetarian if you garnish with yogurt. These directions can also be used to make meat curries as well. Add your favorite meat - I prefer chicken thighs that have been quickly seared on each side - at Step 3).

Step 1: Go curry crazy.
Chop up an onion and press 2-5 garlic cloves. Heat some olive oil in a large pot. Saute the veg until the onions are getting translucent. Then add 2 tablespoons of curry powder.

At this step, you can also add red or green peppers, or a minced jalapeno, if you like your curry spicier, which I do.

Saute, stirring frequently, for about 2 minutes, or until the curry becomes fragrant.

Step 2: Veg out.
Add your favorite chopped veggies - carrots, mushrooms, zukes, etc. You want to choose veggies that are fairly firm and don't have a high water content (no tomatoes or cukes -- you can garnish with those if you like.) Saute for a couple of minutes, stirring frequently.

Step 3: Go for substance.
Now you want to stir in something that's going to fill your tummy - squash, potatoes, eggplant, beans or legumes (lentils, chickpeas, and kidney beans are particularly good). For the veggies, like squash or potatoes, you want 1 inch cubes.

Whatever you choose to add at this stage will determine your cooking time. For example, if you decide to add a cup of dry lentils right now, you're going to simmer (Step 5) until the lentils are done. This is not science; look at the cooking instructions on your food and keep tasting regularly. I've been known to google things such as "how long to simmer potatoes" when I need a ballpark.

Step 4: Liquid refreshment.
Add liquid to the mess in your pot. Light coconut milk makes the curry creamy. Vegetable broth (I like the O! Organics brand) will make a lighter curry. You can add a cup of both if you want to split the difference. Just make sure you add enough liquid to cover your veg.

Step 5: Simmer.
Once the liquid is boiling, reduce heat, cover, and simmer. As I mentioned in Step 3, you're going to want to taste test frequently to make sure that the veggies are done the way you like them. It's impossible to be more precise because everyone likes things a little different - I happen to like my veggies on the mushy side so I cook on the outer edge of the suggested time.

Step 6: Let stand.
For years, whenever I read the words "let stand" in a recipe, I ignored them. That was a rookie mistake. At this point, you want to remove your curry from heat and let it stand for 5-10 minutes. The sauce will thicken up and the flavors will blend.

Step 7: Garnish and serve.
I usually serve my curry over rice or a big handful of spinach. You can also serve it over naan, or just ladle into a bowl like soup. For garnish, I love a dollop of Greek yogurt and a spoonful of spicy chutney. Fresh herbs or greens also make great garnishes.

Meatless Monday is a movement to increase awareness of sustainable, meat-free eating, by eating meatless meals on Mondays. So alliterative!

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