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Vegetable and Red Lentil Soup

lentil soupTHE VERDICT:

I love a good vegetable soup, but this one puts a yummy twist on the classic. A touch of curry, some coconut milk, red lentils and zucchini dress up the usual round up of vegetables. It quickly became a winter favourite after the first time we tried this recipe a few years ago. The fact that it’s easy to throw together is another plus. If you’re good at chopping veggies, you can have this soup on the table in about 25-30 minutes.

It is a tasty, but low calorie soup, so it’s great for those whose new year’s resolution was to lose a few pounds, but it pairs well with grilled paninis or garlic toast if you’re looking for a more substantial meal. While the recipe calls for chicken stock, you could easily substitute in some vegetable stock and you would have a great vegan soup on your hands.

The leftovers taste amazing because the curry flavours have had time to develop, so this makes a great lunch for the next day as well.

In this house, it is also a very kid-friendly meal because Z loves anything with a touch of curry.

If you want to try it yourself…

THE RECIPE:

Vegetable and Red Lentil Soup (source: Good Food Fast by Australian Women’s Weekly)

2 tbsp. mild curry paste

400g can of diced tomatoes

3 cups chicken stock

1 large carrot, chopped finely

2 trimmed celery sticks, chopped finely

1 medium potato, chopped finely

1 large zucchini, chopped finely

3/4 cup red lentils

1/2 cup frozen peas

1/3 cup light coconut milk

  • Cook curry paste in heated large saucepan, stirring, about 1 minute or until fragrant.
  • Add undrained tomatoes, stock, carrot, celery, potato and zucchini; bring to a boil. Reduce heat; simmer, covered, 5 minutes.
  • Add lentils to soup mixture; return to a boil. Reduce heat; simmer, uncovered, about 10 minutes or until lentils are tender.
  • Add peas; return to a boil. Reduce heat; simmer soup mixture, uncovered, until peas are just tender.
  • Remove soup from heat and stir in coconut milk.

Serves 6

Total time: 30 minutes

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Sweet Potato Chickpea Curry

CurryTHE VERDICT:

Not the most authentic curry out there, but a warm and tasty meal nonetheless. It was fairly easy to throw together and the only time-consuming part was waiting the 30 minutes for the potatoes to cook. On a weeknight, you could easily leave this to simmer on the stove while you take care of other chores–a plus for any busy household.

There is lots of potential for easy experimentation here as well. Michael Smith suggests trying other nut butters, using squash instead of sweet potato or varying the spice with different curry pastes, but I think mixing up the citrus juice (lime or lemon instead of orange) would really brighten up the flavours of this dish. I think experimenting with different kinds of veggie combinations could also lead to some tasty results.

The use of peanut butter (or in our case, imitation peanut butter) really thickens up the sauce in this dish. If you prefer a saucier curry, you may want to skip the nut butter altogether.

If you shred the spinach into small pieces and make sure they are soft and wilted before removing the pan from the heat, this dish can be served as is to a child who is experienced with eating solid food (about 9 months and older).

If you want to try it yourself. . .

THE RECIPE:

Sweet Potato Chickpea Curry (source: The Best of Chef at Home by Chef Michael Smith)

a splash of vegetable oil

1 large onion, diced

3 or 4 cloves of garlic, chopped

a small knob of frozen ginger

1 tsp. of Thai curry paste

2 sweet potatoes, peeled and cubed

one 19 oz. can of chickpeas

one 14 oz. can of coconut milk

1 cup of orange juice

1/2 cup of peanut butter or any other nut butter (we used imitation peanut butter and it worked out fine)

a sprinkle or two of sea salt

1 cup or so of frozen peas

several handfuls of spinach

a bunch of chopped cilantro (if you like that sort of thing)

  • Add a splash of two of vegetable oil to a stockpot over medium-high heat. Toss in the onion and garlic and saute them until they’re lightly browned, about 5 minutes or so.
  • Grate the frozen ginger into the pan with a Microplane grater or standard box grater and add the Thai curry paste. Continue cooking until the spices are heated through and fragrant, another few minutes.
  • Add the sweet potatoes, chickpeas, coconut milk, orange juice, peanut butter and salt. Bring to a simmer, lower the heat and continue simmering until the sweet potatoes are tender, about 30 minutes. Stir in the peas and spinach and cilantro.
  • Serve over rice.
  • Freestyle variation: There are three basic types of Thai curry paste, each with its own distinctive flavour. You may choose one based on your tolerance for spicy heat: yellow is the mildest, red is a bit spicier and green is the spiciest. This dish cooks very well in your slow cooker. You may use any type of hard winter squash instead of sweet potatoes; butternut and acorn work well.

Makes 6-8 servings.


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Spiced Pumpkin Soup with Open-Faced Sandwiches

Pumpkin soupTHE VERDICT:

This was certainly the perfect soup to usher in the fall, and you can expect lots of soup reviews from us as the weather cools as soup is one of our favourite  foods to enjoy during the chilly and rainy winter months. This soup is a breeze to prepare, so it’s a wonderful weeknight warm up. Leftovers taste even better the next day once the flavours have had time to marinate.

If you have the option when grocery shopping, select the larger can of pumpkin. We’ve used both sizes and find a standard-sized can greatly reduces the overall pumpkin flavour.

There is no need to modify this soup recipe for baby as it is a pureed soup. To thicken it and add a boost of iron, just add some rice cereal.  Zayden really enjoyed this soup, but that’s not a surprise. He’s a soup-a-holic. Whenever he has soup, he goes in to hysterics if we don’t shovel it in fast enough. Thanks to his passion for soup we’ve learned a few tricks to help speed up delivery. We thicken it with rice cereal and thicker soup results in less drips, and he can get it off the spoon more easily. We also pop an ice cube into the soup to help cool it down faster so we don’t have to blow on every spoonful.

If you want to try it yourself…

THE RECIPES:

Spiced Pumpkin Soup (source: Spark Recipes; original recipe)

Build Your Own Open-Faced Sandwich (source: Tonight’s Dinner)

1-2 slices of bread per person, toasted (we suggest ciabatta, French bread or sourdough)

A condiment of your choice, optional (we suggest Dijon mustard)

About 50 g of deli meat per person (we suggest smoked turkey, salami or black forest ham)

Sliced or shredded cheese (we suggest cheddar, swiss, jack or havarti)

Some sliced veggies of your choice (we suggest red onion, green peppers and/or tomatoes)

  • Preheat oven to 350F.
  • Spread pre-toasted bread with condiment, if using.
  • Top bread slices with meat, cheese and veggies.
  • Bake in oven until cheese is melted and bubbling, about 5-7 minutes.


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Curried Bison Biryani with Broccoli Spears

Curried Bison Biryani with Broccoli SpearsTHE VERDICT:

I think in the future we should remember that curries do not make good 20-minute meals. Good curries need time to simmer and stew for the flavours to develop. This quick curry was foul to say the least. The cooking liquid mentioned in the recipe never materialized (looking at the ingredients, I’m not sure where it was supposed to come from), so instead of a nice saucy curry, we ended up with more of a pasty spice rub. It was a huge disappointment because all the ingredients (bison, mango, delicious curry spices) sounded so promising.

As I managed to boil the pot dry when cooking the barley and the curry in general was a massively disappointing bust, I can only conclude that this recipe is cursed. At the very least, they must have left out a liquid on the list of ingredients. Once we have put this sad affair behind us for a bit, Justin may try to improv a better version of this curry using similar ingredients. If that’s a success, we’ll post it.

If, for some reason, you want to try it yourself. . .

THE RECIPE:

Curried Bison Biryani (source: Clean Eating magazine)

1/2 tsp. sea salt

1/2 cup dry quick-cooking barley

1 medium onion, sliced into rounds

2 Tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil

5 cloves garlic, sliced into thin rounds

1 cup fresh mango, cubed or 1 cup frozen mango (about 1-inch cubes)

1/2 cup frozen peas

16 oz. bison sirloin tip, trimmed of any visible fat and cut into 1/4 inch strips

1 cup cherry tomatoes, halved

BIRYANI SPICE BLEND: 1 tsp. ground cumin, 1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon, 1 tsp. ground coriander, 1 tsp. ground turmeric, 2 tsp. ground ginger (or substitute 5 tsp. of curry powder)

  • In a medium pot, bring 1 cup water to a boil over high heat. Meanwhile, add Biryani spice blend and salt to a small bowl, mix and set aside. When water comes to a boil, add barley, stir, cover and reduce heat to medium-low. Simmer for 10-12 minutes, then remove from heat and set aside.
  • While barley is cooking, in a large nonstick sauce pan over medium heat, saute onion in oil for 3 minutes or until fragrant. Add garlic and cook for another 2 minutes, stirring frequently to prevent garlic from burning.
  • Stir in spice-salt mixture, mango, peas and bison. Reduce heat to medium-low and stir again to make sure all ingredients are nestled in cooking liquid. Continue to cook for another 5 minutes.
  • Combine barley with bison mixture before plating, then top each portion with tomatoes and serve.

Makes 4 servings.

Hands on time: 20 minutes. Total time: 20 minutes.

Nutrients per serving: 354 calories, 11 g fat, 37 g carbs, 29 g protein, 305 mg sodium, 80 mg cholesterol

Nutritional Bonus: 1 Tbsp. of paprika has 71% of your vitamin A requirement.

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Chickpea and Vegetable Curry with Basmati Rice

Curry VegetablesTHE VERDICT:

The difference between a homemade curry and one made from packaged curry paste is tremendous.  It is a bit more work, but in the end you have much more flexibility to tailor it to your specific tastes, and you end up with a richer, more complex tasting sauce.  The basic concepts are usually the same: fry up some combination of garlic, onion, shallots and ginger, and then add the spices until fragrant.  The wet ingredients are usually added after that, and cooked until combined, at which point the rest of the ingredients are added and cooked.

The first time we made this was on my birthday, and at the time we substituted kaffir lime leaves for curry leaves, and brown mustard seeds for black.  It turned out well, but was a bit more sour than we probably would have wanted.  This time we thought ahead and picked up the proper ingredients from our local spice shop.  Turns out it makes a huge difference, as the taste was much more to our liking this time around.  We substitued local zucchini for eggplant, and added nugget potatoes and chickpeas as well to make it a more complete meal.

This recipe works great for leftovers, as the rich flavours only increase with time.

We set aside a couple of handfuls of chickpeas from the can and pureed them with a bit of water to make some food for Zayden.  He loved it!  Since he’s had chickpeas and garlic, it won’t be too long until we’re making him hummus.

THE RECIPE:

Coconut Curried Vegetables (source: previously reviewed on Tonight’s Dinner; find the original recipe here)

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Yogurt and Tamarind Grilled Chicken with Curry Vegetables and Basmati Rice

Yogourt Tamarind Chicken with Curry Vegetables

THE VERDICT:

There’s nothing like making curry from scratch.  Fresh spices lend a much more complex flavour to the dish than generic paste or powder, and the cook can more easily influence the dish to their liking.  The vegetable dish can be made with any variety of vegetables (local and in season, ideally) but care must be taken to add each vegetable to the pot so that they all reach the proper level of softness at the same time.  The chicken dish turned out much better than I expected, and both of us would make it again.  It is a very simple and low maintenance dish, so as long as you can be proactive and marinade it beforehand.  A good idea would be to prepare the marinade in the morning before leaving for work, so that it is ready to cook when you get home. Cooking the chicken was a cinch.  We used the Griddler to grill the chicken, but a cast iron grilling pan or BBQ would work just as well. While the recipe says the lemon wedges are optional, the citrus really does enhance the flavour of the marinade.

Leftovers were tasty and the vegetables held up overnight.  We didn’t overcook them so they weren’t completely mushy the next day.  The curry was even more aromatic as the flavours had time to intensify.

On Vij’s cookbook:  I’d highly recommend this cookbook.  The introductory sections give a great background on Indian cooking and the spices traditionally used (note that he doesn’t once mention nuts even though many Indian restaurants seem to use nuts to thicken sauces) and background on their restaurant.  The recipes are mostly doable without having to devote your life to prep, and are written in a great anecdotal style which lends insight into his thought process.

If you want to try it yourself…

THE RECIPES:

Yogurt and Tamarind Marinated Chicken (source: Vij’s: Elegant and Inspired Indian Cuisine by Vikram Vij)

¾ cup plain yogurt, stirred

1 Tbsp. tamarind paste

3 Tbsp. finely chopped garlic

¼ cup canola oil

1 ½ Tbsp. salt

1 ¼ Tbsp. ground cayenne pepper

1 Tbsp. garam masala

2 ¼ lbs. boneless chicken thighs

1 lemon cut into 6 wedges (optional)

  • In a large mixing bowl, combine yogurt, tamarind paste, garlic, oil, salt, cayenne, and garam masala. Add chicken and mix well. Cover the bowl and refrigerate for at least 4 hours and up to 8 hours. The longer the chicken marinates, the stronger the flavours will be.
  • Preheat a grill, barbecue or stovetop grill pan to high heat. Remember to turn on your exhaust fan if cooking indoors as the cooking process will create some smoke.
  • Grill chicken on one side for 2 minutes, then turn over and grill the other side for 2 minutes. Repeat this process for a total of 4 minutes per side.
  • While chicken is still piping hot, squeeze a little fresh lemon to taste.

Note: Be sure to use boneless chicken thighs as breast meat doesn’t absorb the flavours of the marinade as well. If your tamarind paste has the texture of a fruit smoothie rather than a thick jam, use 2 Tbsp. instead of 1 Tbsp.

Makes 6 servings.

Coconut Curried Vegetables (source: Vij’s: Elegant and Inspired Indian Cuisine by Vikram Vij)

½ cup canola oil

25-30 fresh curry leaves

1 Tbsp. black mustard seeds

1 ½ cups finely chopped onions (2 medium)

1 Tbsp. + 1 tsp. chopped garlic

2 cups chopped tomatoes (2 large)

1 Tbsp. ground cumin

1 tsp. turmeric

½ tsp ground cayenne pepper

1 Tbsp. salt

½ tsp. ground black pepper

1 (12 oz.) can coconut milk, stirred

1 lb. eggplant in 1.5 inch cubes

1 lb. cauliflower in 1.5 inch florets

¾ lb. red, green and/or yellow peppers in 1.5 inch cubes

¾ cup chopped cilantro

3-4 cups cooked basmati rice

  • In a large pot, heat oil on medium heat for 1 minute. Keeping your head at a distance from the pot, add curry leaves and mustard seeds and allow them to sizzle for about 1 minute or until just a few mustard seeds start to pop. The curry leaves will cook and shrivel.
  • Immediately add onions and sauté until golden brown, about 8 minutes.
  • Add garlic and sauté for 2 minutes.
  • Add tomatoes, cumin, turmeric, cayenne, salt and pepper.
  • Sauté the masala for 5-8 minutes or until the oil glistens on top.
  • Stir in coconut milk. Bring to a boil and reduce heat to medium-low.
  • Add eggplant, cover and simmer for 5 minutes.
  • Add cauliflower and bell peppers, cover and cook for 5 minutes more.
  • Stir in cilantro.
  • Serve on top of rice.

Note: You can use whatever vegetables you like for this dish, but remember to add them according to cooking time, so that they don’t end up over or under cooked.

Makes 6-8 servings.


Garam Masala (source: Vij’s: Elegant and Inspired Indian Cuisine by Vikram Vij)

This spice mixture is used in many Indian recipes.  Garam means “warm” and Masala means “spices”.  There are many variations to a basic masala but they are all relatively pungent and spicy, and tend to have some sweetness to them.  This is Vij’s famous mixture that is used in many of their dishes.

1 heaping tsp whole cloves

1 1/2 tsp black cardamom seeds (about 10 whole pods)

6 heaping Tbsp cumin seeds

1 Tbsp pounded cinnamon sticks

1/4 tsp ground mace

1/4 tsp ground nutmeg

Make sure you have your stovetop exhaust on as this is pungent cooking!  In a heavy-bottomed frying pan, heat cloves, black cardamom seeds, cumin seeds and cinnamon sticks on medium to high heat, stirring constantly.  When the cumin seeds become a darker shade of brown, remove from stove.  Transfer the roasted spices to a bowl and cool for 20 minutes.  Place roasted spices, mace and nutmeg in a grinder or mortar/pestle and grind until it has the consistency of black pepper.  Can be used right away and will keep for up to 6 months.  We’ve found it keeps even longer although I tend to add more to dishes the longer I keep a batch.


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