For Quick, Veg-Forward Curries—Look to the Pantry!
Your guide to making curry a weeknight staple
This article is an excerpt from our upcoming cookbook, Anyone Can Cook, which will be published with Prestel in Spring 2021 and is already available here for preorder. All month long, you’ll get exclusive sneak peeks, plus plenty of new, satisfying, and versatile recipe ideas to rely on the whole week through.
Curry? You can indeed make it in a hurry. In only 30 minutes, you can create a filling and delicious curry that’ll taste even better the next day. The following ideas are inspired by taste combinations with origins from across the Indian subcontinent through to Southeast Asia. Here are the key pillars to work with when improvising.
The spices to have on hand
You can of course use a pre-mixed curry powder of your liking to create the base flavor. To this, I like to add extra enhancements to dial up certain notes, such as a cinnamon stick or a couple of crushed cardamom pods. For convenience, you can keep ground spices, but make sure not to keep them too long as their flavors will dull over time. If you have a mortar and pestle, purchase whole spices, which tend to be more flavorful, and use them whole when a recipe calls for it, or grind them yourself. To always be curry-ready, keep the following on hand: cumin, coriander (whole seeds or ground), garam masala, smoked paprika, cinnamon sticks, chili powder, cardamom pods, all-purpose curry powder, and ground turmeric. Keep spice pastes like green or red curry paste in the fridge, or make your own by blending dried spices with an immersion blender.
Bloom before you begin
Whether the base of your curry is dry (comprised of dry spices, plus alliums like onion, garlic, and ginger) or made with a wetter spice paste (made from scratch or store-bought), it’s important to sauté these mixtures over medium-low heat until fragrant, which will help to release the flavors—a process called “blooming.”
The pulses to keep in your pantry
Dried beans like black beans and chickpeas, or hearty lentils with a shell such as brown lentils and urad dal, are best soaked overnight. This will not only lead to a faster cooking time, but makes them easier to digest. Bring the soaked pulses to a boil in a large pot of salted water and cook for approx. 15 min., or until softened, then drain and use in your recipe. Red and yellow lentils can be used straight away, as can many canned pulses.
Almost any vegetable will work in a veg-forward weeknight curry—think sweet potato, potato, carrot, cauliflower, broccoli, beans, eggplant, pumpkin, and spinach. Just make sure to add heartier vegetables to your pot first, and softer, leafy greens or veg later, to make sure your textures are intact.
There are many ways to add even more flavors and textures to your curries. To make a creamy curry, add coconut milk, heavy cream, or yogurt when the curry is almost done cooking. For sweetness and acidity, add a couple of teaspoons of tomato paste just after you fry your onions, ginger, and garlic—cook until the paste begins to darken and caramelize, which will add richer color and flavor. For something fresher, grate in a green apple as we do in our chickpea dal. If you’re aiming for a Southeast Asian-inspired curry, add fish sauce for umami or lime juice for tanginess.
You can’t deny that a curry intensifies with time, and the trick with speedy curries is to not serve them piping hot. Let them rest for 5 minutes before serving, which will allow you to taste all the intricate flavors better.
Published on September 16, 2020