EVEN SUPERMARKET STAPLES CAN MAKE GREAT CURRY
The term “curry” is derived from the Tamil word kari, which simply means “sauce” or “gravy.” There are thousands of ways to make curry. When flavorful beef or lamb is the main ingredient, even a mediocre recipe yields a decent result. But vegetable curry is a different story. In the wrong hands, vegetables can be watery carriers for the sauce, offering little personality of their own.
To ensure that the vegetables add something beyond bulk to this dish, you must utilize techniques that develop flavor in the vegetables. Caramelizing the onions and browning the potatoes make a huge difference in this dish, as does sautéing the cauliflower in the aromatics (spices, garlic, ginger, chiles, and tomato paste) before the liquid goes into the pot.
If the vegetables contribute flavor, you can get away with using convenient ground spices (no grinding of whole spices needed). And rather than buying or measuring a dozen different ground spices, we recommend starting with two spice blends. Curry powder adds the familiar aromatic and floral notes as well as some color, while garam masala brings warm notes (from cinnamon and coriander) as well as a little heat (from black pepper and dried chiles). To maximize the flavor of the spice blends, take a minute to toast them together in a dry skillet and then bloom them in the fat in the curry pot.
As you will see, great vegetable curry doesn’t require a long ingredient list. It doesn’t require a lot of time either—our recipe is ready in less than 1 hour, including time to prep the vegetables. It’s even possible to make curry on a busy weeknight. Who knew!
WHY THIS RECIPE WORKS
Toast and Bloom
We toast the curry powder and garam masala—which includes such warm spices as black pepper, cinnamon, coriander, and cardamom—in a dry skillet to intensify their flavors. Why is toasting in a dry skillet so beneficial? When added to a simmering sauce, the spices can be heated only to 212 degrees. In a dry skillet, temperatures can exceed 500 degrees, heightening flavors exponentially. (But be aware that you can overdo the toasting and burn the spices.) We add the toasted spices to the pot with the onions and aromatics so that the spices can bloom even further in the added oil.
Supercharge the Base
We caramelize the onions until fond (flavorful dark bits) develops in the bottom of the pan, and we add garlic, ginger, and a minced fresh chile for heat. A spoonful of tomato paste, though inauthentic, adds sweetness, helps browning, and boosts the sweet, savory flavors in the dish.
Coax Flavor Out of the Vegetables
Potatoes can be bland. To quickly boost their flavor, we cook them along with the onions until they’re browned. We build more flavor with the cauliflower too by following an Indian cooking method called bhuna, which involves sautéing the spices and main ingredients together to enhance and meld flavors. This technique helps develop a richer, more complex flavor. Other sturdy vegetables, such as green beans and eggplant, work well with this technique.
Finish with Liquid and More Veggies
Toward the end of cooking, we pour a combination of water and chopped canned tomatoes into the pot and simmer until the vegetables are tender. No-prep vegetables like nutty chickpeas and sweet peas, added during the last few minutes, give the dish heft, as well as flavor. We finish with a small amount of cream or coconut milk—either adds richness without overpowering the delicate vegetables.
Hearty onions and potatoes get browned, while delicate cauliflower and peas are added later.
Indian Curry with Potatoes, Cauliflower, Peas, and Chickpeas
SERVES 4 TO 6
- 20 minutes to prepare ingredients and toast spices
- 15 minutes to sauté curry ingredients
- 10 to 15 minutes to simmer curry (mostly hands-off)
- 2 minutes to cook peas and season curry
- 8-inch skillet for toasting spices
- Food processor for chopping tomatoes (can be done by hand if necessary)
- Dutch oven with heavy bottom to prevent scorching
Substitutions & Variations
- You can substitute 2 teaspoons ground coriander, ½ teaspoon ground black pepper, ¼ teaspoon ground cardamom, and ¼ teaspoon ground cinnamon for the garam masala.
- We strongly recommend making one or both accompaniments. But if you’re absolutely pressed for time, serve with plain whole-milk yogurt—it’s not as exciting as the relish or chutney but certainly better than nothing.
- If you want to use other vegetables, try this variation for Indian-Style Curry with Sweet Potatoes, Eggplant, Green Beans, and Chickpeas: Substitute 12 ounces sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into ½-inch dice, for red potatoes. Substitute 1½ cups green beans, trimmed and cut into 1-inch pieces, and 1 eggplant, cut into ½-inch pieces (3 cups), for cauliflower. Omit peas.
Gather and prepare all the ingredients before you begin cooking the curry. This recipe is moderately spicy when made with one chile. For more heat, use an additional half chile. For a mild curry, remove the chile’s ribs and seeds before mincing. In addition to the suggested condiments, serve with Rice Pilaf, using basmati rice for the most authentic results.
- 2 tablespoons sweet or mild curry powder
- 1½ teaspoons garam masala
- ¼ cup vegetable oil
- 3 garlic cloves, minced
- 1 tablespoon grated fresh ginger
- 1 serrano chile, stemmed, seeds and ribs removed, and minced
- 1 tablespoon tomato paste
- 1 (14.5-ounce) can diced tomatoes
- 2 onions, chopped fine
- 12 ounces red potatoes, unpeeled, cut into ½-inch chunks
- 1¼ pounds cauliflower florets, cut into 1-inch pieces
- 1 (15-ounce) can chickpeas, rinsed
- 1¼ cups water
- 1½ cups frozen peas
- ¼ cup heavy cream or coconut milk
- Toast curry powder and garam masala in 8-inch skillet over medium-high heat, stirring occasionally, until spices darken slightly and become fragrant, about 1 minute. Transfer spices to small bowl; set aside. In separate small bowl, stir 1 tablespoon oil, garlic, ginger, serrano, and tomato paste together; set aside. Pulse tomatoes and their juice in food processor until coarsely chopped, 3 to 4 pulses; set aside.
- Heat remaining 3 tablespoons oil in Dutch oven over medium-high heat until shimmering. Add onions and potatoes and cook, stirring occasionally, until onions are caramelized and potatoes are golden brown around edges, about 10 minutes. (Reduce heat to medium if onions darken too quickly.)
- Reduce heat to medium. Clear center of pot, add garlic mixture, and cook, mashing mixture into pan, until fragrant, 15 to 20 seconds. Stir garlic mixture into vegetables. Add toasted spices and cook, stirring constantly, for 1 minute longer. Add cauliflower and cook, stirring constantly, until spices coat florets, about 2 minutes longer.
- Add tomatoes, chickpeas, water, and 1 teaspoon salt, scraping up any browned bits. Bring to boil over medium-high heat. Cover, reduce heat to medium, and cook, stirring occasionally, until vegetables are tender, 10 to 15 minutes. Stir in peas and cream and continue to cook until heated through, about 2 minutes longer. Season with salt to taste, and serve.
ONION RELISH MAKES ABOUT 1 CUP
If using a regular yellow onion, increase the sugar to 1 teaspoon.
- 1 Vidalia onion, chopped fine
- 1 tablespoon lime juice
- ½ teaspoon paprika
- ½ teaspoon sugar
- ⅛ teaspoon salt
- Pinch cayenne pepper
Combine all ingredients in bowl. (Relish can be refrigerated for up to 24 hours.)
CILANTRO-MINT CHUTNEY MAKES ABOUT 1 CUP
- 2 cups fresh cilantro leaves
- 1 cup fresh mint leaves
- ⅓ cup plain whole-milk yogurt
- ¼ cup finely chopped onion
- 1 tablespoon lime juice
- 1½ teaspoons sugar
- ½ teaspoon ground cumin
- ¼ teaspoon salt
Process all ingredients in food processor until smooth, about 20 seconds, scraping down sides of bowl halfway through processing. (Chutney can be refrigerated for up to 24 hours.)
A Better Way to Chop an Onion
Many chefs lop off both the top and the root end before chopping an onion. However, for the average home cook, we find that leaving the root intact makes it easier to keep the layers together as you make each cut. The distance between the cuts made in steps 2 through 4 will determine the size of the final pieces. For chopped or diced onions, leave ¼ to ½ inch between each cut. For minced or finely chopped onions, leave ⅛ to ¼ inch between each cut.
1). Halve onion pole to pole—that is, cutting through top and root end. Peel onion and trim top. (It’s much easier to remove the skin once the onion has been cut.)
2). Lay peeled onion half flat side down on cutting board. With your hand on top of onion, make several horizontal cuts from 1 end to other but don’t cut through root end.
3). Make several vertical cuts. (Be sure to cut up to but not through the root end.)
4). Rotate onion half so root end is in back. Slice onion thin across previous cuts. Use your knuckle as guide for knife while holding onion with your fingertips. Pull your fingertips in towards your palm, extending knuckles outward when cutting for more control.
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