After an unseasonably warm December, there is finally an appropriate chill in the air, a few feet of snow on the ground and, in our home, a desire to eat simply and healthy. This means a beautiful vegetable curry.
I’ve started the new year making my own curry paste to use immediately or store in the fridge or freezer for last-minute dinners.
While a curry powder spice blend is always good to have in the pantry, I like this grated sludge of ginger root, tumeric, cumin, coriander, shallot and a little garlic all blitzed in a food processor until it forms a paste. Mixed with a can of coconut milk, it creates a slightly nubby texture instead of a smooth curry cream sauce made with a prepared curry powder blend.
The amazing healthy food blog, 101 Cookbooks , makes a different curry paste using lemongrass and suggests making a big batch and keeping leftovers in the freezer. This is now my routine for my homemade curry paste, which means dinner only 10 minutes away.
Turmeric is the ingredient that gives curry powder its bright yellow complexion. Its primary compound, curcumin, is enjoying a surge of popularity as it is believed to be a powerful anti-inflammatory and antioxidant agent. Some early studies suggest that curcumin might also be effective against the growth of cancer cells.
We love turmeric because of its sunny bright yellow hue that seems to brighten grey January days shrouded in mist, or blanketed in snow.
I found turmeric root in the grocery store this week, not far from its cousin, ginger root. I sometimes find it at the farmer’s market next to the ginger root. Organic, as always, is important. Local? Even better. The most common form of turmeric is in a powder found in the spice aisle and it is a pantry staple for me.
Whether you use the freshly grated turmeric root or the powdered spice, turmeric has a smoky, earthy aroma and a slightly bitter flavor. It can be added to curries, chicken soups and stews, egg scrambles or to a cup of hot water with a lemon squeeze to drink as a tea.
Vegetables commonly available at the winter farmer’s market and grocery, such as carrots, turnips, cauliflower, broccoli and potatoes make a satisfying curried combination. Served over rice, or even quinoa, is an option my kids enjoy but I sometimes enjoy the curry on its own, acerbic with a twist of lime. The thick, fragrant sauce envelops the soft vegetables. It is warming and soothing, a cozy antidote to the blustery chill and snow outside.
Regardless of how you decide to make or eat your curry, it is a bright way to greet the cold season and possibly one of the healthiest ways, too.
10 Great Ways to Enjoy Turmeric:
- Nigel Slater’s Quick Chicken Laksa recipe from The Guardian. One of my favorite food writers, Slater is a master at creating quick dishes on the fly from ingredients already in your kitchen.
- Nigella Lawson’s Keralan Fish Curry recipe. I absolutely crave this dish and make it often. It’s from Nigella’s Forever Summer cookbook.
- Stir in a teaspoon or two of turmeric into your rice after you add the water and add a squeeze of lemon.
- Mind, Body, Green blog has a list of easy ways to use turmeric, including my favorite roasted chickpeas.
- Start the day with a homemade turmeric tea. If you can find turmeric root, peel and smash a 1/2-inch piece, as well as a 1/2-inch piece of ginger root. Step in hot water for about 10 minutes in a tea strainer used for tea leaves. Remove and add a squeeze of lemon and a bit of honey, if desired. If you do not have turmeric root, stir in a few teaspoons of powder, steep for 10 minutes and stir well. I also like Rishi Tumeric Ginger Tea with a squeeze of lemon.
- Toss raw cauliflower florets with olive oil and sprinkle over salt, pepper, turmeric and cumin. Roast in 400 degree oven until cauliflower is tender and beginning to brown. (About 20 minutes but watch carefully the first time.)
- Add turmeric to your favorite smoothie. I liked this recent Washington Post guide to creating a “sensational smoothie.”
- This is the organic turmeric I buy, which is also available at Whole Foods.
- Stir a Tablespoon or two of turmeric into your favorite chicken soup or stew.
- Whisk a Tablespoon into 3 eggs before you scramble. Or make deviled eggs. Slice open hard boiled eggs and mash a teaspoon or two of turmeric into the yolks with a little mayo, salt and pepper. Or use your favorite curry powder (check salt content before you add any salt. Many curry powders can be salty.)
- One-inch piece of ginger root, peeled with a spoon and cut into rough pieces
- One-inch piece of turmeric root, peeled with a spoon and cut into rough pieces, or 1 Tablespoon powdered turmeric (found in most grocery spice aisles) *Note: Raw turmeric will stain your hands. Wear kitchen gloves. If your food processor is yellow after blending, soak in vinegar.)
- 1 small shallot or very small onion. Peeled, roughly chopped
- 2 small garlic cloves, outer peel removed, smashed
- 1 teaspoon cumin
- ½ teaspoon coriander (not crucial)
- 2 Tablespoons organic coconut oil or olive oil
- 3 cups raw chopped vegetables (cauliflower florets, broccoli florets, potatoes, carrots)
- ½ cup frozen peas, if desired
- 1 can coconut milk
- ½-3/4 cup vegetable or chicken stock (I made a broth with Better Than Bouillon No Chicken paste)
- 1 lime, to taste
- Fish sauce or soy sauce, to taste.
- Add the roughly chopped turmeric, ginger, shallot, cumin, coriander (if using) and a Tablespoon of coconut or olive oil into a mini or regular food processor until a paste forms.
- Heat remaining oil in a large fry pan with a lid. Add vegetables and curry paste, stir to combine and let cook until the paste just begins to stick to the bottom of the pan.
- Add enough broth to just cover the bottom of the pan, bring to a boil and scape up paste stuck to the pan, stir to combine.
- Keep boiling gently uncovered until some of the liquid has evaporated.
- Add coconut milk, stir to combine. (If you have never used coconut milk before, be aware that it has a watery consistency topped with a thick cream layer at the top. It is normal for coconut milk to be separated. It doesn't mean it has gone bad!)
- Bring to a boil then reduce heat to a low simmer and cover. Add peas, if using. Cook until heated through and vegetables are tender, usually just a few minutes.
- Season to taste with fish sauce, soy sauce or sea salt.
- Squeeze with lime and serve over cooked rice, if desired.
*For a spicy paste, include a small Thai chile pepper or Jalapeño to the food processor with the rest of the paste ingredients.
*For a chicken version, brown chicken in the pan first in a little oil, then add curry paste and vegetables.