Last week I wrote about eating seasonally, and mentioned that fall and winter are ideal seasons to eat “warming” spices like those found in most curries. Curries can also be made with tons of veggies and little or no meat, making them a tasty and frugal meatless meal (or mostly meatless) even if you’re not normally a veggie lover. The rich flavors of the spices mean you won’t even miss the big chunk of meat that sometimes seems to be the star of the American dinner plate.
If you think you don’t like curry because you ate in an Indian restaurant once and it was too spicy (hot) or the flavors were just too strong, I want to encourage you to give it another shot by making it at home. You can cut the spices down by half (or more) until you get used to the strong flavors. If you don’t like spicy food, you should try Rogan Josh, Sweet Curry, Tandoori, or Sate.
Almost everything I know about cooking with curry powders or pastes I learned by trial and error and by reading the Penzey’s catalog. (Not an affiliate link, I just really love their spices.) For example, here’s the description of Sweet Curry Powder:
A good starter curry powder-great flavor with little heat. Travel to the port towns of Southwestern India today and you will be served a variety of fish seasoned with this same style of curry, though sometimes with a pinch more fenugreek and always with a healthy dose of fiery hot peppers. Sprinkle on baked chicken or fish, use about ½ tsp. per pound for rich (not too spicy) flavor. For tuna salad, mix 1 tsp. per Cup mayonnaise with 1 tsp. Dijon mustard and a dash of vinegar. Add 1 tsp. to a pot of chicken soup for flavor and color. For a curried pasta or green salad dressing, mix 2-3 tsp. seasoning in 1 Cup yogurt or ½ Cup each of vinegar and oil. Hand-mixed from: turmeric, coriander, cumin, fenugreek, ginger, nutmeg, fennel, cinnamon, white pepper, cardamom, cloves, black pepper and cayenne pepper.
I love how they include little mini-recipes in the spice description! It’s also nice to see what the spice blend is made of, for when you want to get more advanced and start mixing your own. (Or if you just want to make a new recipe without buying a new spice mix.)
There are a couple of ways to go when you want to start cooking with curry. I’m all about cooking freestyle, but when I’m trying out a brand new style of cooking, there’s nothing wrong with following a good recipe. I made these Grilled Thai Curry Chicken Skewers and Coconut-Peanut Sauce last week, and they were very good. Make a large batch of stir-fry veggies and rice as side dishes, then a couple days later, mix all your leftovers together (the chicken, veggies, rice and coconut dipping sauce) for a meal that might be even better than the original.
For something a little more Indian-inspired, here are some of my favorite recipes:
- Chicken Tikka Masala – This is a great recipe to start with if you’ve never cooked with curry before. It’s not the most veggie-filled recipe, but you could always add some sauteed veggies for a more well-rounded meal. Bell peppers, carrots, sweet potatoes, peas, green beans and okra are all good additions to Indian curry dishes.
- Lentil Rogan Josh – I know it sounds weird, but the relatively bland lentils are a great base to really let the curry seasoning shine. It’s also very much a “pantry meal,” if you have the rogan josh seasoning blend then you probably have everything else in your pantry or freezer. (I left out the dried mango powder and it was fine.) Vegan.
- South Indian-Style Vegetable Curry – to really get your veggie fix, and stretch your curry-cooking muscles a bit, try this recipe. It’s full of healthy stuff that I love to eat, like chickpeas, sweet potatoes, cauliflower, coconut milk…and you’ll notice that “curry powder” is suspiciously absent from the ingredient list. That’s right — you’re mixing your own. Like I said, this is a bit advanced, but I’m pretty sure you could use an equal amount of a premixed curry powder and it would still taste great.
Once you’ve made those three recipes, I hereby declare you a curry expert, and unleash you upon the world to invent a new version of curry with your own favorite spice blend, meat, and veggies.
Have you cooked with curry before? If not, have I inspired you to try it?
Welcome to my Cooking School series, which is designed to share what I’ve learned as an experienced home cook with people who want to learn how to cook healthy, homemade food. If you have a topic you’d like me to address, please leave a comment!
PS. I think I’m going to put this series on hiatus for a while until inspiration strikes again. But if you have an idea, suggestion, or would like to write a guest post, I’d love to hear from you. Leave a comment or email me at sarah [at] kerner -dot- net