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Food

Curry Night at Home

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I'm a total cooking-show whore, I'll admit it right up front (although Sandra Lee's "open a can of crap and put a marshmallow on it!" school of cooking has never sat right with me). I have a long long queue of Jamie Oliver and Mario Batali cooking shows on my DVR, since they play them at odd hours, either when I'm asleep or at work. I know that Anthony Bourdain would gladly put a cigarette out on my arm for saying this, but I kinda love Jamie Oliver, with his cute little lisp and cute little motorbike and cute little wife and kid. I know his dishes aren't what you would call authentic, but I like his style and his ingredients and his cute little lisp. Did I mention that already?

For instance: he cooked a very simple and tasty-looking curry sauce with lemon pickle and lemon rice. One of the part of Indian food that always intimidates me (as well as many others, judging by the vast array of pre-prepared masalas and paneers lining the aisles of my local Rich Hippie Mart) is that there are so many doggone spices you have to buy and possibly hand-crush in a mortar & pestle. Those fuckers are heavy. Whenever I'm at Surfas I always consider buying one but then shy away from its toe-crushing heft. Anyway. Jamie Oliver threw together this great-looking, easy dish that didn't require any grinding or crushing or pestling, just simple herbs and spices like mustard seeds and curry leaves, which have flavors easily released by the heat of a well-oiled pan.

I picked up all my ingredients at India Sweets & Spices in Los Feliz -- yes there are still special items you have to purchase, but it's fun! The store is a wonderland of peppers, mustard, paneer, naan, rice, masala, turmeric, ginger, garlic, dals, boxed curries, soap, medicine, whatever. Plus there's an attached restaurant that serves an amazing array of vegetarian Indian take-away for shockingly cheap prices -- I wanted to stop in since I love visiting the Palms location (it's a franchise!), but I simply didn't have time.

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I had to get home -- home where I would cook vegetable curry, lemon rice, and lemon pickle, accompanied by naan and pappadums. I have to admit a shameful truth: I pretty much stole these recipes from the Food Network page listing for Jamie Oliver, but instead of chicken or fish, I decided to customize my sauce as a veggie curry. So it's sort of original, right??? Right. Everything in this dish is vegetarian, but it will satisfy even the most determined of meat eaters.

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Vegetable Curry

5 tablespoons vegetable oil
2 teaspoons mustard seeds
1 teaspoon fenugreek seeds
3 fresh green chiles, seeds removed and thinly sliced
A handful curry leaves, ripped into small pieces
2 thumb-sized pieces ginger
3 onions, peeled and chopped
1 3/4 pounds mixed vegetables, chopped (potatoes, zucchini, peppers, onions, sweet potatoes, spinach, chard, cauliflower, lentils, beans, whatever you got)
6 small chopped tomatoes or can of diced tomatoes
1 teaspoon turmeric
1 teaspoon chilli powder
1 or 2 wineglasses water or chicken broth
1 can coconut milk
Salt

Heat the oil in a pan when hot add the mustard seeds. Wait for them to pop, then add the fenugreek, green chile, curry leaves, and ginger, stir and fry for a few minutes.

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Chop the onion, add to pan, and continue to cook. Add all other veggies once onions have cooked down a bit. When brown and soft, add the chili powder and turmeric.

Add tomatoes to the pan. Cook for a couple of minutes, add 1 or 2 wineglasses of water/broth and the coconut milk. Simmer for about 35 minutes until it has the consistency of thick heavy cream then season carefully with salt.

Serve with hot basmati rice. I like to stir in some lemon juice and cilantro with my rice just before serving.

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Lemon Pickle

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2 teaspoon mustard seeds
2 tablespoons olive oil
A small handful curry leaves, optional
1 teaspoon urad dhal/skinned and split black lentils, optional
1 teaspoon chili powder
4 tablespoons white wine vinegar
2 medium lemons, washed, deseeded, and chopped

Fry the mustard seeds in the hot oil. As they begin to pop, add the curry leaves and urad dhal. Lower the heat and add the chili powder; cook until brown, then add the vinegar. Stir in the lemon, remove from the heat and leave to cool. Can be stored in the refrigerator for a week.

The lemon pickle is intense, I gotta tell you: the rind still has some texture to it, and the flavor is spicy, lemony, bitter, and deep. Somehow, though, when eaten with a nice big crispy bite of pappadum (I roast these flat, crispy, tortilla-like objects over an open gas flame), it's strangely addictive. I would love to try this pickled preparation with all sorts of veggies, especially bell peppers, carrots, cabbage, or onion.

The curry is nice, if generic tasting -- not too far from the bottled stuff I usually use, but still not quite like the tikka masala take-out we cherish. I'll keep experimenting, and I think introducing more ingredients like yogurt, paneer, spinach, and legumes will be a stimulating and delicious exercise.

Serve this with store-bought naan and pappadums.