from top center, clockwise: yellow mustard, red pepper, cardamom, brown mustard, turmeric, whole cumin
I’ve always liked Indian food but it wasn’t until my junior year of college that I got truly addicted. I spent six weeks in Bangalore, India for school (with a week or so spent on some farms and in Mysore) and ate Indian food for every single meal of the day. Some people, when they travel, get sick and tired of local food and suddenly crave things like toast or a Big Mac—anything that reminds them of home. That would not be me (though I will make an exception for coffee anywhere except for India, where I’ll take a hot cup of chai any day). My host mother in India was a phenomenal cook and introduced me to the delicious flavors of Southern Indian cooking, which is very different from the Northern style that we mostly get in the US. Southern cooking, to me anyway, is a lot lighter than Northern cooking—it still sticks to your ribs but doesn’t leave you feeling as though you just ate a lot of (very tasty) cement. There is a lot of coconut used in the South, and it tends to be predominantly vegetarian as the south is majority Hindu. This recipe is loosely based on curries that Chaya, my host mom, made while in India (note: you could easily swap out the ghee/butter for sunflower or canola oil to make this vegan). I crave curry as soon as the weather gets colder and make it in huge batches to freeze for quick dinners when I’m tired and/or lazy. It tastes just as good as the day after I made it—curries are always better once the flavors have a chance to mingle. See the instructions below for the scoop on “resting” time and freezing.
Note: The recipe below is pretty spicy, so if you prefer yours less so, cut down on the chilies and pepper flakes. Alternately, serve with fresh plain yogurt or raitha to cut the heat.
4 tbsp ghee/butter
1 tbsp mustard seeds (I split this between yellow and brown but either are fine)
1 tsp red pepper flakes (adjust to spiciness preference)
½ tsp ground turmeric
1 tbsp whole cumin
5 whole dried chilies (again, adjust to spiciness preference)
3 thumb-sized chunk of fresh ginger, cut in 3 pieces
5 whole cardamom pods
4 bay leaves (dried)
4 tbsp minced shallots
1 tbsp fresh minced garlic
2 pints tomatoes, halved (canned are also okay – about 16 oz should be fine. I used multi-colored fresh for the “rainbow” effect but you don’t have to)
1-2 fresh peppers, cubed (not green)
2 tsp salt
1 cup canned coconut milk (I used low fat)
3 pounds potatoes, cubed, skin-on (again, used multi colored for the rainbow effect but any kind and color are fine)
2 cups frozen peas
red, orange, yellow and green baby heirlooms.
Melt butter in a large saucepan or stock pot over medium-high heat. Add pepper flakes, garlic and shallots and sautee until aromatic. Add cumin and mustard seeds and sautee quickly until mustard seeds start to ‘pop’ (about 20 seconds). Add tomatoes, salt, ginger, turmeric, bay leaves, cardamom and ginger. Cook for about 3-4 minutes; for fresh tomatoes, cook until skins start to pucker. Add coconut milk, peppers and potatoes and cover. Cook for about 25-30 minutes or until potatoes are cooked through/nearly cooked through. Stir periodically (you can add water if it looks like things are drying out a lot, though the potatoes will release a decent amount of water as they cook). Taste and adjust seasoning if necessary during this time. Add in peas and cook for about 2 more minutes, until peas are heated through but still retain their bright green color. Grey peas are gross! Remove from heat.
Curry always tastes best if it is let to sit for a bit. Ideally I’ll make my curry in the morning and let it sit out on the stove, covered, until that night. I’ll quickly reheat and serve over basmati rice (removing cardamom, bay leaves and whole chilies first). Life being what it is, however, the ideal thing never happens and I usually make it the night before. It’s fine to sit out overnight and during the day as long as you keep it covered (rules change slightly if it has meat in it). Reheat in your microwave or on the stove. To serve, top off with fresh coriander/cilantro.
You can also add in any number of veggies to this dish. Mushrooms, carrots, eggplant, cauliflower … it can all go in. If you’re using delicate veg like mushrooms, though, don’t abuse them by adding them at the beginning of the cooking process—toss them in about halfway through the 20-30 minute simmer session. Carrots, on the other hand, take f-o-r-e-v-e-r to cook so you can add them in with the potatoes.