Ridiculously Easy Vegetarian Curry

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Ridiculously easy curry

OK, so usually I don’t agree AT ALL with oversimplifying curry recipes….but last night, as I wandered a nearly empty grocery store in the Hamptons (on a frigid February night), I realized I had little choice. On weeknights this winter, I’ve been staying at a rental apartment on the East End, far from Chinatown and my well-stocked cabinet in the city, where authentic ingredients are easy to come by. It was time to improvise.

So here is my bastardized version of Thakkali Payaru Curry. If you ever have the proper ingredients — namely, mustard seed, curry leaves, bird’s eye chiles and spices like turmeric, corinder and chili powder — then please make this much better version. If you’re in a pinch, the following will do. Actually, it will do just fine (see above photo.)

Bastardized verson of Thakkali Payaru Curry
3 tbsp oil (I used coconut oil)
1/2 tsp Dijon mustard
one yellow onion, diced
4 cloves garlic, diced
2 hot peppers, sliced lengthwise (if you can’t find bird’s eye or serrano, then use one jalapeno)
2 tsp curry powder
3 ripe tomatoes, diced
5 oz spinach (about half of bag)
1 can black-eyed peas (often found in market’s Goya aisle)
2-3 tsbp yogurt
Heat oil in skillet. Add mustard. Stir in diced onions, allow to soften. Add garlic. Mix in curry power and chili peppers; stir well. Add the tomato. Let cook for a few minutes. Stir in spinach, and cook over low heat for several minutes until spinach starts to wilt. Stir in the black-eyed peas. When warmed through, take off heat. Add the yogurt. Delicious!

Spotted Near Union Square: Galangal

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Galangal at whole foods

Whenever I see a mainstream grocery store carrying fresh ingredients used for Asian dishes, I always have to give them a little shout-out. (For instance, please see my previous coverage of coriander roots at Citarella.)

Last weekend, I spotted this beautiful basket of galangal at the Whole Foods near New York’s Union Square. Galangal, for the uninitiated, is something like ginger — but more potent, with an almost eucalyptus-like flavor and scent. See a comparison of galangal and ginger here. I use galangal for my curry pastes, and normally need to trek down to Chinatown to buy it. Not this time.

Keep up the good work, Whole Foods!

A Moroccan Coconut Curry with Chicken

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Moroccan curry

My in-laws just returned from a 50th anniversary trip to Morocco with bags of spices in tow, including a pouch of divine-smelling curry powder that they gave to me. Thank you, in-laws!

I’ve never attempted (or eaten?) a Moroccan curry, but found plenty of recipes online, including this easy one on Epicurious. One thing I love about Epicurious is that reviewers put in loads of helpful tips in the comment section. So I followed those extra pieces of advice, plus added my own alterations. The resulting dish was quite tasty, and one I’d love to make again. Enjoy!

Moroccan Coconut Curry with Chicken

2 tablespoons coconut oil (or any veggie oil)
1 medium onion, chopped
1 red bell pepper, chopped
2 bird’s eye Thai chiles (or any hot pepper), chopped
5 cloves of garlic, diced
2 cups chicken broth
1 (15-oz) can chickpeas, rinsed and drained
1 (15-oz) can chopped tomatoes
3 teaspoons curry powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
Freshly ground black pepper
1/2 can of coconut milk (you can freeze other half)
3/4 lb chicken breast, cut in strips
juice of one-half lime
fresh mint
white rice

Heat oil in large pan (I used a Le Creuset.) Add onion, bell pepper and chiles; cook, stirring occasionally, until softened. Add garlic, stirring constantly for a minute. Add the broth, chickpeas, tomatoes, curry powder, salt and black pepper; bring to a boil over high heat. Simmer on low for a long time (15 mins is great, or as long as you have); eventually, add coconut milk and chicken. Allow chicken to cook through. Add torn mint leaves and lime juice. Serve over rice, and add more mint for garnish. Delicious!

Curry Courtesy of Wegmans

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Erin Kyle curry

Erin and Kyle’s curry, made with a little help from Wegmans. 

I am from Upstate New York, which means I know Wegmans. It’s a blessing and a curse. When you grow up with Wegmans, no other grocery store can possibly compare. You can move to a big city like New York, home to an array of famous markets…and yet, something is missing. People ask, “Oh, Wegmans…is it like Whole Foods? Trader Joe’s? Fairway?” No. Wegmans is more than a grocery store. It is an experience.

All of this is to say, I am not surprised that the inimitable Wegmans has the good sense to supply curry sauces that are apparently delicious. I do not know this from personal experience as — rather tragically — I do not live near a Wegmans now. (Greenwich Village has many things, but not a Wegmans.)

But, my niece Erin and her significant other Kyle, who recently bought a home together in the hills near Syracuse, are frequent Wegmans shoppers. They recently made this dish, pictured above, using Wegmans’ “Mild Curry Simmer Sauce,” with chicken and white beans over rice, with a side of string beans and broccoli. (Chef Kyle did the cooking.) “We’re not experts but it’s very delicious,” Erin said. “Especially after a full day of work and a night class for me.”

More investigation reveals that Wegmans (of course!) has its own line of curry sauces….including a refrigerated version of Thai red curry sauce. Many grocery stores carry heavily preserved curry sauces (of questionable quality) in a jar. But not so many stock curry sauces in their refrigerated sections. I am further impressed that Wegmans, which serves a region of the country not as ethnically diverse as New York City, is in the curry business.

Well done, Wegmans, well done. And you too, Erin and Kyle!

This is Erin’s second curry photo of the day. The next time you enjoy a curry, please send a photo to colleendebaise@gmail.com, and I’ll happily pubish on this blog.

In a Hurry? Need Curry?

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Curry Lane

Curry Lane, NYC.

Red Curry With Pineapple and Shrimp

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Red curry pineapple shrimp

Yum! I recently was craving a curry with pineapple…so after picking up a few logical ingredients (namely, deliciously fresh pineapple — not that horrid stuff in cans), I searched for a decent-looking recipe to make. I stumbled upon this video by a Thai chef named Pai, who posts her cooking videos on YouTube. She didn’t specify the exact measurements, so I made a few guesses….but it came out terrific. Below is my version of the recipe, using my homemade red curry paste. The tamarind is a key ingredient, as it is a souring agent and tones down the sweetness of the dish. Enjoy! And thank you, Pai!

Red Curry With Pineapple and Shrimp

1/2 can coconut cream
3 tbsp red curry paste
1/2 can (or so) of coconut milk
2 cups diced pineapple
2 tbsp fish sauce
1/4 tsp tamarind concentrate, mixed with 2 tbsp water
1/2 tbsp palm sugar
2-3 chile peppers, chopped
4-6 kaffir lime leaves (spine removed and torn)
3/4 lb shrimp
jasmine rice

Begin by “cracking” about one-half can of coconut cream, stirring in a hot wok until the liquid reduces and begins to look oily. At that point, fry your red curry paste in the cracked coconut cream until deliciously fragrant. Add coconut milk, stirring well. Mix in the diced pineapple and allow to cook on low heat for about five minutes. Add fish sauce, tamarind and palm sugar, and mix well. Stir in chile peppers and kaffir lime leaves. (According to Thai chef Pai, one should “relax and calm down” when making Thai food, so don’t rush all this too much.) Lastly, add your shrimp, and cook through. Serve over jasmine rice. Delicious! 


A Good Soup If You’re Sick

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Curry soup for sick hubby

Last weekend, the hubby was sick with a mild flu, and requested chicken soup. This is an Asian version of chicken noodle soup, and quite delicious. I’ve made it before, using my homemade red curry paste – but this time I added bok choy to give it some leafy green-ness. One other change: I cooked the noodles separately, a step I recommend to avoid too much starchiness in the broth. Incidentally….my acupuncturist tells me that “good bone broth will wake the dead” so perhaps that’s why this soup seems to have restorative powers. It’s perfect if you or a loved one is feeling under the weather…or even if you’re not!

Thai Curry Soup

1 16-ounce chicken breast, with bone in
6 cups chicken broth (plus 2 cups water)
3 tbsp red curry paste
6 oz rice noodles
1 red bell pepper, julienned
2 chiles, sliced
1 baby bok choy, sliced
2 scallions, sliced
1 or 2 limes, for flavor and garnish

In a medium saucepan, bring the broth and 2 cups water to a boil. Add chicken on bone, and reduce to simmer. Cover until the chicken is cooked through, about a half hour. Remove chicken, let cool, then shed and set aside meat. (If you like, add a dash of fish sauce to help keep chicken moist.) Return bones to the broth, bring to a boil and reduce by about a third. Remove and discard bones. Add curry paste into the broth and return to simmer. While that’s simmering, cook the noodles separately; set aside. Add the bell pepper to your broth; cook until it softens. Stir in the chicken. Add chiles, bok choy, and the juice of half a lime.
Put a helping of noodles into a bowl, and ladle a big spoonful of soup over it. Serve with scallions and garnish with lime wedges. Delicious!

Pumpkin Curry With Shrimp

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Pumpkin curry

Pumpkin curry is a fantastic meal this time of year, as nights turn chilly and one dreams of spending evenings by the fire, sipping red wine. (I don’t have a fireplace, so that is indeed a dream.) Regardless, this is a curry that’s perfect for the mellow fruitfulness of autumn — you can buy a big pumpkin and chop it up, saving the seeds to roast separately. You can also use butternut squash instead of pumpkin, which might be easier to find in stores, especially after Halloween.

I can’t take full credit for this recipe, as it borrows heavily from a Nigella Lawson version (and hers is easier, if you want to follow that one). But I add ingredients to make it more authentic Thai (namely, coconut cream, palm sugar, kaffir lime leaves and bird’s eye chile peppers), plus my homemade red curry paste. I particularly like Nigella’s addition of turmeric, as it gives this dish a lovely color. If pictures are your thing, here is a pictorial essay that I created a couple falls ago.  Recipe is below. Enjoy!

Pumpkin Curry with Shrimp

1/2 can coconut cream (you can freeze other half)
3 tbsp red curry paste
3 tbsp fish sauce
2 tbsp palm sugar
1/2 can coconut milk  (you can freeze other half)
1 cup fish stock
1/2 tsp turmeric
3 bird’s eye chiles, finely chopped
4-6 kaffir lime leaves, finely shredded
3 lemongrass stalks (tender lower-third of stalk, bruised with pestle or flat of knife)
2 lbs or so of pumpkin or butternulk squash, cut into bite-sized pieces
1 lb shrimp
1 head baby bok choy, shredded width-wise
1/2 lime, juiced (save the other half for a garnish)
jasmine rice

Add coconut cream to wok; turn heat up to high and stir cream until it “cracks” (that is, the liquid reduces by about a third and starts to look oily.) Mix in curry paste, and allow to cook for a few minutes. Add fish sauce and palm sugar, allowing palm sugar to melt. Pour in coconut milk and fish stock. Add turmeric, chile peppers and kaffir lime leaves, then lemongrass stalks. Bring to boil, then add pumpkin/squash. Simmer until pumpkin is tender but still has “bite” to it. Add the shrimp. Cook for a few minutes, then stir in bok choy, letting it wilt. Add juice of half-lime. Serve over jasmine rice, garnish with lime. Delicious!


The Case of the Missing Shrimp

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Chinatown fish stall

Here is the fish stall on Canal Street in Chinatown where yesterday I bought a pound of tiger shrimp.

I had just been to Bangkok Center Grocery on Mosco St., picking up galangal, coconut cream, thai basil and other hard-to-find ingredients to restock my kitchen. Right before the fish stall, I bought two heads of wilty bok choy from a street vendor. So by the time I left this fish stall, I must have been carrying at least 3 bags. I remember it being unwieldy as I stopped to take this photo (which I snapped in part to show my hubby, who is always somewhat appalled I buy seafood here).

A short while later, I hopped back on the A train to W. 4th. Alas, by the time I made it home…the bag of shrimp was missing! I’ve concluded it was either 1) left on the subway inadvertently 2) dropped on the street accidentally or 3) stolen by a pickpocket (in which case, I apologize to the thief for not buying the pricier prawns). I’ll probably never know.

The happy ending: The hubby, who prefers shrimp from perhaps more sanitized markets, volunteered to pick up another pound at Citarella, our local gourmet grocery. Later that evening, we had Pumpkin Curry with Shrimp, made with a fresh batch of my homemade red curry paste. Problem solved, if not the mystery. A photo of the dish is below. Delicious!

pumpkn curry

The Highest Compliment: Readers Try My Recipe!

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My version of Easy Indian Chicken Curry, which calls for cauliflower, chick peas and green peas.

Now here’s an honor: Three recent CrackingCurry.com readers tried my Easy Indian Chicken Curry recipe!

What’s funny is that all three (unless I’m mistaken) don’t know each other — and all three live in separate parts of the country (Massachusetts, California and New York). Which helps prove my theory: Curry is a uniter.

What’s also funny is that this “Easy Indian Chicken Curry” recipe isn’t easy, despite the name. As a journalist, I have long known that the headline is everything. If I had named this “Recipe For Which You’ll Need At Least 20 Ingredients, Some Of Them Unusual,” I probably wouldn’t have gotten any takers. So thank you, Igor, Christine and Roe, for sticking it out….and sending me photos of your finished products to boot!

Here we have all three — behold, and be inspired!

igor'scurryIgor’s Curry

Igor is a former colleague from SmartMoney — a magazine that no longer exists, but in its hey-dey employed incredibly talented writers like ourselves. :) Apparently, Igor isn’t just a talented financial journalist but a chef as well! Here is what he said about the dish:

“I’m game to ruin anything once, but your recipe proved Igor-proof as well as delicious…”

Clap, clap, clap – excellent job, Igor!


christine'scurryChristine’s Curry

I have nearly forgotten how I know Christine, who lives in San Francisco — I believe we have a number of mutual friends in common, and she was once a member of my Upper East Side Social Club. One thing I know: Christine is an accomplished chef. Not sure my recipes are worthy of her skills! Her post on Facebook:

“Attempted my curry mentor’s (Colleen DeBaise ) East Indian curry recipe this evening. Tried to make it pretty.”

Indeed….very pretty! Thank you Christine!


roe'scurryRoe’s Curry

Roe and I go way back…she was my book editor and continually inspires envy for her jet-setting, olive-oil-harvesting, ragu-making ways. I knew she was accomplished at Italian food — should have realized her culinary skills would extend to curry! Her comment below:

“Yummmmmmmm! I used boneless thighs stedda breast meat and 28 oz chickpeas stedda 15. Just simmered the thighs for a total 60 mins — last 30 with the cauliflower. Caveat: this makes A LOT of curry. I have 6 pts to freeze! But it’s a keeper.”

As I said to Roe, clearly I (and the hubby) must east giganatic portions, as we don’t have nearly as much leftover. :) Thanks for the lovely photo, Roe!

If you’ve tried one of my recipes, please send a photo to colleendebaise@gmail.com, and I’ll happily pubish on this blog.