Indian Curry in a Hurry
Think Indian dishes are too complicated? These require just one pot.
Photos by Leah Lizarondo
Are you there, spring? It’s me, Leah. Oh, and winter? GTFO. Oops. Sorry. Didn’t mean to be rude. I’m sure you’re tired of hearing about how cold it is and how much snow there is, so let’s just talk about one of the things that helps me survive these months. It has to do with food, of course.
I’m talking about Indian cuisine. I just love Indian food — especially in the winter because it is so warming. The savory gravies, stews, dals — the spiciness of it all makes the dark, cold days bearable. If you haven’t yet tried Indian food, get on it. Most people like to start with milder curries; look for dishes with “tikka masala” or “korma.” My kids love “palak paneer,” a spinach dish with flecks of Indian cheese (though we order plain palak most of the time) and any dal (legume) preparations.
Last weekend, I made a pilgrimage to my favorite Indian restaurant, Udipi, all the way in Monroeville (said the city rat). The trip is always, always worth it. It’s the best Indian food in the ’Burgh. Don’t let anyone tell you differently. I could go just for the coconut sambar. The dosas are to die for. I always overeat. Breaking rules — it’s hard not to. It’s just so good. You have to experience it.
Because I cannot have Udipi every day, I satiate my craving for the flavors at home. Indian food is one of those cuisines that — in my opinion — you can approximate well in your own kitchen. But unless you truly invest in procuring the more obscure ingredients, there will always be something missing. You won’t be able to pinpoint it, but that feeling is going to be there. For example, I don’t have amchur (mango powder) and kasuri methi (fenugreek leaves) — or even curry leaves always handy. It’s not that these ingredients are hard to come by in the city; there’s a reasonably well-stocked Indian grocer on Craig Street in Oakland and a number of them in Monroeville. But in my attempt to keep my kitchen inventory under control, I can’t always have every spice on hand.
The other thing that makes a big difference is your cooking technique. Cooking dal first, toasting the spices or making the paste — and making the gravy separately — all make a difference when you take the proper time (of course, you have to have the time in the first place). I have done the time-consuming, authentic technique, and it makes a world of difference. However, I don’t have the time to do that in my daily life, so I usually cook everything in one pot. Doing so will still yield really amazing dishes. But it won’t be like the restaurant style.
But I’m not at all trying to knock modern Indian home cooking; I feel like I sound discouraging. What I want to emphasize are two things: (1) seek out Indian spices when you can and (2) try cooking with the right technique when you have time. Where to start? My favorite tome is “Classic Indian Vegetarian and Grain Cooking by Julie Sahni.” You must buy this book if you love Indian food. Its been my self-study teacher, and I have made many, many wonderful recipes from it.
Through things I have learned from this book, I’ve cobbled together my own version of two traditional dishes — Red Bean Curry (Rajma Masala) and Cauliflower Curry (Aloo Gobi). It’s my take on a pair of classics designed for the busy but curious home cook. I hope you enjoy!
Red Bean Curry
Yield: Serves about 8
- 4 cups cooked kidney beans
- 2 T olive oil or ghee
- 1 cup chopped onion
- 3 cloves garlic, chopped finely
- 1 tsp. finely chopped ginger
- 2 cups pureed tomatoes
- Water as needed
- 1 tsp cumin seeds
- ½ tsp turmeric powder
- 1 T coriander powder
- 1 tsp garam masala
- 1 cinnamon stick
- 1 bay leaf
- 4 cardamom pods (optional)
- 4 whole cloves (optional)
1. Gently heat oil, add onions and sauté until brown.
2. Add ginger, garlic, cumin seeds, cinnamon stick and bay leaf and saute for a few seconds.
3. Add tomatoes and the rest of the spices and stir.
4. Add the kidney beans, bring to a boil and let simmer for a few minutes, letting the flavors combine.
5. Add about ¼ cup of water at a time to thin the gravy and let simmer for about 15-30 minutes, adding more water as needed, letting the flavors develop.
6. Serve hot over rice.
Aloo Gobi (Cauliflower Curry) recipe here.