Like Claire, I keep my spice rack pretty simple: cinnamon, nutmeg, rosemary, paprika, cumin, whole and ground black peppercorns, sage and thyme (thanks to my Thanksgiving role as bearer of stuffing, but that’s another post), canister of salt, and bigger still canisters of cayenne pepper and red pepper flakes.
My one exception to the basic-is-better rule is a set of curry seasonings. I love these spices and build whole – and easy – meals around them. Chick peas are boring; chana masala is awesome. Sauteed chicken is a pasty horror show, but cook it in vindaloo and you’ll want to eat your dinner and serve it to others, too.
The vindaloo, rogan josh, garam masala, “balti” and “maharajah” curry blends in my cupboard come from the Penzey company and I admit are not a bargain (though bulk bags lower the cost to $1.30 per ounce), but I bet you can find them cheaper at Indian grocers. Maybe one day I’ll make my own; today I’m sort of a shortcut-taking food enthusiast. While these blends contain spices I use often, like paprika and cumin, they also contain about ten others I don’t, like white pepper, star anise, black cardamom and fenugreek.
Here’s an outline to the ingredients I like to use:
Think lamb, chicken or beef. If the last one, no need to splurge on fillet mignon, but I recommend against the pre-cut chunks on the supermarket shelf. Yes, they’re cheap and labor-free, but they’re also for stew and often too tough. Or skip meat entirely and use tofu or chick peas.
Dry seasoning plus a wet ingredient like water, yogurt, or coconut milk.
Onion, cauliflower, peas and tomatoes add moisture and flavor. Potatoes are great, too, but take more work since they need to get good and browned before curry can begin. Peas are easy if you follow Kevin’s advice and have a bag in your freezer, and canned tomatoes do great things.
See Brian’s curry post for notes on making rice. (I am going to get a cross-post award if it kills me!)
Very important, and very fun. Pimp your dish with such extras as plain yogurt, cilantro, peanuts, shredded coconut, scallion, or mango chutney (again, I buy in the store, but if you make from scratch please tell me how!).
Here’s the recipe behind the picture, adapted from Penzeys.
– 4 new potatoes
– 2 medium yellow onions
– 5 T vegetable oil or ghee (clarified butter)
– 1.5 lbs of beef
– 4 T vindaloo seasoning
– 1 t garam masala
– 5 T water
– 6 T white vinegar
– bay leaves
– frozen peas
1. Chop potatoes into cubes.
2. Fry in heated oil or ghee in deep skillet.
3. Cut beef into cubes. Add to potatoes and brown.
4. Remove potatoes and meat with slotted spoon; add onions to remaining fat and saute until translucent.
5. Return potatoes/meat.
6. Make curry paste from vindaloo seasoning, garam masala and water. If it’s still thick like concrete, add more water.
7. Add curry paste to skillet.
8. Add a couple bay leaves.
Optional: Cayenne pepper. Spice fiend, beware: I have overdone it and gone through pints of yogurt in order to make this manageable in my mouth. 1 teaspoon is a good stopping point for me, I’ve found. But, you know, everyone is in a different place with their spice tolerance, and that’s just fine. Just figure out where you are and do what you need to do to take care of yourself, okay?
9. Add the peas.
10. Let cook 30 mins.
Time it right and your rice will be ready to go once vindaloo is done. Serve over rice and decorate with aforementioned garnishes.
EVEN EASIER, EVEN CHEAPER: CHANA MASALA, from Leda from Lessie, like almost everything I cook
– 2 cans chickpeas
– 1 can chopped tomatoes (watch our for weird spiced versions! just get the plain ones!)
– 1 can unsweetened coconut milk
– 1 medium onion, chopped
– 1 T flour
– 6 T vegetable oil or ghee
– ½ T “balti” spice
– 1 t ground cumin
– 1 t “maharajah” curry
– ½ t garam masala
– 2 T mustard powder
1. Dredge onions in flour using your hands.
2. In biggish saucepan, heat oil/ghee and then saute onion for about 10 minutes.
3. Add dry spices, cook for 30 seconds.
4. Add coconut milk, chickpeas and tomatoes.
5. Let simmer over low heat 20 minutes. Pour over rice. Accessorize!