The Little Foodie: Vibrant curry base vital to Indian exploration
My cookbooks are my favorite things. There is nothing more comforting than the small ambition of picking out one or two, and settling into the possibility of a recipe.
Mahalo for reading the Honolulu Star-Advertiser!
You're reading a premium story. Read the full story with our Print & Digital Subscription.
Already a subscriber? Log in now to continue reading this story.
Most of the food I eat comes out of a utilitarian cooking style: flip-flopping a handful of ingredients for quick meals. It’s rare that I use my cookbooks for, you know, cooking. Occasionally I’ll research a recipe with the intention of cooking something new.
It feels like self-improvement to study a formula, make an ingredient list, prepare a mise en place (lining up all the ingredients), and embark on a voyage to a completely new dish. Perhaps it’s laziness, but I’m much more interested in the research than the finished dish.
Still, my cookbooks are my favorite things. There is nothing more comforting than the small ambition of picking out one or two, and settling into the possibility of a recipe. I make a lot of mental notes for the day my life slows down. (Spoiler alert, it never does.) I’ve learned plenty about technique and flavors by reading footnotes, experience-driven instructions and ingredient lists. I get inspiration for the gist of a recipe, adapted for what I actually have in my fridge.
I’ve studied enough Indian cookbooks to understand I know nothing of Indian cooking. If there’s any style of cooking that I’m most nervous about, it’s this one. Indian recipes tend to assume that a reader is familiar with what everything tastes like. But I usually have no idea. That’s enough to keep me away from a recipe, because how will I ever know if it came out right? Still, I occasionally take the risk.
I’ve picked up a very small amount of knowledge that I pretend to employ like a professional. One is the use of a base in a curry. I doubt I’m doing it “right,” but I’ve had some success. Really, nothing can be bad when you start with a generous amount of onion, ginger and garlic. I can say confidently that I, and all my cookbooks, can agree on that.
CHICKPEA AND CAULIFLOWER CURRY
- 3 tablespoons avocado oil (or other neutral oil that can stand high heat)
- 1 tablespoon brown sugar
- 1 teaspoon ground cumin
- 1 tablespoon ground coriander
- 1/2 teaspoon cumin seeds
- 1/4 teaspoon garam masala
- Half a head of cauliflower, cut into 1-inch florets
- 1-1/2 cups water
- 1 teaspoon salt, plus more to taste
- 2 cups cooked chickpeas (substitute canned, rinsed and drained)
- 1 (12-ounce) can coconut milk
- >> Onion paste:
- 1 thumb-sized piece ginger, peeled
- 1 thumb-sized piece turmeric, peeled (or 1 tablespoon dried)
- 1 small or 1/2 medium onion, roughly chopped
- 5 to 7 cloves garlic
- 1 to 3 tablespoons water
>> To make onion paste: In blender or food processor, blend ingredients, using a tablespoon of water. Add more water depending on your blender, to ensure smooth processing, but try not to add more than 3 tablespoons. Blend until no large chunks remain.
On stove burner set just a touch over medium, heat oil in large, heavy saute pan. Once oil is very hot, add onion paste. Stir immediately. It will splatter, so be careful when adding to pan. Cook about 5 to 7 minutes, until thick.
Add brown sugar, cumin, coriander, cumin seeds and garam masala; cook until fragrant, 1 to 2 more minutes. Add cauliflower and stir until coated.
Add 1-1/2 cups water and salt. Stir and bring to simmer. Cover pan and lower heat to medium-low. Cook 10 minutes.
Remove lid and stir. Add chickpeas. Raise heat to just under medium and simmer about 8 minutes. Add coconut milk and stir; cook 5 more minutes.
Check cauliflower for doneness. Taste and add more salt, brown sugar and spices as needed. (I find that the flavor of the spices doesn’t come through well if it is too salty, hence the need for sugar. You can use maple syrup, if you prefer.)
Serve as a soup or over rice. Serves 6.
Approximate nutritional information, per serving (not including salt or brown sugar to taste): 300 calories, 21 g fat, 12 g saturated fat, no cholesterol, 550 mg sodium, 24 g carbohydrate, 6 g fiber, 6 g sugar, 7 g protein.
Mariko Jackson blogs about family and food at thelittlefoodie.com. Her column runs on the last Wednesday of the month. Nutritional analysis by Joannie Dobbs, Ph.D., C.N.S.