Experimenting with a Vegetable Curry Improv is a great way to use up all your Indian spices.
An Indian supermarket is a fascinating and astounding place. Take those big bags of whole spices like cumin seeds and cardamom pods, for example. It’s like the Costco of Indian seasonings. Whenever I pick one up all I can think about is how can one possibly put all that to use before it loses its punch? I come from the small supermarket spice jar set that ends up, years later, tossing out what’s left of the little-used spice. Not anymore! (To help with this, be sure to have a kitchen Sharpie for dating all your spice jars.)
A quick, one-pot vegetable curry, once you’ve made a couple, will become an intuitive, recipe-free regular meal in every season. Start by cooking the spices in some hot oil for a minute or two to release their flavors. After that, it’s a matter of chopping up a few vegetables and opening a couple of cans. Dump, stir and cook, that’s curry. And it is as open to improvisation as you are able to find things to contribute to the pot.
Change up the vegetables by adding whatever is seasonal or in your crisper drawer. Be sure to add the quick-cooking tender vegetables like spinach, peas or zucchini near the end of cooking. The coconut milk is optional. Use water as the only liquid or add vegetable or chicken broth. Simmer with chunks of chicken. If you want to add lamb, add chunks of lamb stew meat and simmer with the onions and liquid until almost tender before adding the vegetables.
Indian Spices to Keep on Hand
Whole cardamom pods, black and green
Whole cumin seed
Whole mustard seed
Dried chile flakes
- Whole cumin seeds (a generous pinch)
- Whole mustard seeds (a generous pinch)
- Vegetable oil
- 1 medium onion, chopped
- 1 knob of fresh ginger the size of a walnut, coarsely chopped
- 3 cloves garlic, minced
- A few whole cardamom pods, green and black
- Whole coriander seeds, a good sized pinch
- About 2 tablespoons turmeric
- 3 medium all-purpose potatoes, diced
- 2 cans (15.5 ounces each) chickpeas, drained
- 1 can (14.5 ounces) diced tomatoes
- 1 can (about 13.5 ounces) coconut milk (unsweetened)
- 2 to 3 empty cans water
- 2 big handfuls of shredded fresh kale and/or shredded cabbage
- Pinch of hot pepper flakes, to taste
- Fresh cilantro sprigs and lemon wedges, optional
Heat the oil in a large pot over medium-high heat.
Add the mustard seeds and cumin. Cook and stir about a minute or two until they are fragrant and begin to pop.
Add the onions and cook, stirring frequently, until softened, about 5 minutes.
Add the garlic, ginger, cardamom and continue to cook a few minutes.
Add the potatoes, chickpeas, tomatoes, coconut milk, and enough water to just cover the potatoes.
Reduce heat, cover and simmer about 20 minutes or until the potatoes are just tender.
Add the kale and/or cabbage, cover and simmer about 20 minutes. Serve in bowls as is or over rice. Garnish with fresh cilantro sprigs and a lemon wedge.
Use the onion, garlic, and spice mix and add whatever vegetables you like to improv your own curry. Add green peas near the end of cooking, add cauliflower the same time as the kale. Add chopped carrots with the potatoes. You can even leave out the coconut milk and cook the curry in water with delicious results.