Food Buzz

Because maybe you do care what I had for lunch...

Monday, January 09, 2006

Vegetable curry without the curry powder

First, a word about this term, curry. There is curry powder, a mixture of spices also known as masala. And there is masala, a distinct spice. And there is the curry plant, the leaves of which are used in Indian cooking. And there is curry, a term that refers to just about any dish using curry (or masala) powder with ghee and coconut milk.

And then there is the curry dish I made tonight. I wondered, could I make a curry without using curry powder? As the Indians would say with a sideways nod, why not? (This means yes, by the way.) Curry leaves give dishes a sort of darker, more complex flavor. The only time I've ever detected it in American Indian cooking is at Brick Lane, though I tasted it in just about every Indian dish I tried during my last trip to England. Why I ate so much Indian food on that trip is another story.

My first shortcut of the day was to use olive oil instead of ghee (clarified butter). I sauteed some minced ginger and chopped onion for a few minutes before adding some tumeric (stains everything a nice golden color, so be careful) and then two cans of coconut milk. Then I added what I thought were some curry leaves from the freezer. They were actually kaffir lime leaves. Then I added one chopped bunch of broccoli, two cans of chick peas (including the liquid from one can), three chopped carrots, and three chopped yukon gold potatoes.

At this point I tasted the mixture and realized I'd added kaffir lime leaves instead of curry leaves. There is no problem with the flavor of lime leaves per se, unless you steep them for a long time or use them in great quantities, in which case they flavor your dish like a fragrant floral soap. I got some curry leaves from the freezer, added them, then realized I'd need to remove the kaffir lime leaves, and spent the next few minutes stirring, removing leaves, tasting them, and either discarding them or putting them back in. I promise I'll never do anything like that if I ever cook for you, by the way. Kaffir lime leaves usually have a distinctive double leaflet shape while still on the stem, but these were off the stem and more difficult to distinguish from the curry leaves.


The dish was salvaged and came out with a nuanced but definitely curriffic flavor. It was actually more of a stew than vegetables with sauce. We had it spooned over basmati rice.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Well, lots of Thai curries use Kaffir lime leaves, so you could just say you were infusing it with a little Thai essence. Or something like that.