Friday, October 17, 2008

Three Vegetable and Potato Curry

Although I’ve featured over one hundred recipes on this blog, this is one of the few that resembles what I grew up eating for dinner on a regular basis. In Gujarati Ismaili cuisine, there are two basic types of curry – a brown curry made with onions and tomatoes that features meat and a red curry made with tomatoes only that features vegetables. Of course, there are many dishes that don’t fit into this nomenclature including the coconut chicken curry and others that are actually inspired by the Swahili people of the East African coast, and not an adaptation of Gujarati food from India.

One of the key features of Indian cooking is what I grew up calling vagaar (but is more commonly known as chhaunk or tadka in the rest of South Asia) which refers to the ‘tempering’ of spices. This involves frying whole spices in oil or ghee to release essential oils that result in a more flavourful dish. The process is also said to aid in digestion and release the healing powers of spices such as carotene found in curry leaves. In this recipe, the vagaar is made at the beginning and tomatoes and other spices are added to the vagaar to form a paste. In other recipes, a vagaar is added at the end to a cooked dish such as a lentil or stew.

This technique is common in other types of cooking as well. To cook vegetables or meat, we often temper garlic and/or onions in oil or butter before adding the main ingredient. Does anyone know if the vagaar technique diffused to Europe and North America or if it developed independently in the West?

Serves 4-6

3/4 lb red potatoes, peeled and cut into 1-inch cubes
2 tablespoons vegetable oil (preferably canola)
1/2 teaspoon black mustard seeds
pinch cumin seeds
5 curry leaves (optional)
2 medium tomatoes, finely chopped
2 tablespoons tomato paste
1 teaspoon ginger paste
1 teaspoon garlic, paste or finely chopped
1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes (or to taste)
1/4 teaspoon hot chilli powder (or to taste)
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon coriander powder
1/4 teaspoon turmeric
2/3 lb French beans or string beans, ends removed, cut into 1-inch pieces
2/3 lb small eggplant, cut into 1-inch cubes
1 cup peas (frozen is acceptable)
1/2 cup water
1/2 bunch cilantro, stems removed and finely chopped
Serve with flatbread (rice, chapatis, parathas, puris, tortillas, wraps or whole wheat Pita)
Serve with lime pickle (optional)

1. Boil potatoes until almost cooked. Cool to room temperature. Can be done a day in advance but make sure potatoes are at room temperature for this recipe.
2. In a large pot, heat oil on medium. Add mustard seeds, cumin seeds and curry leaves. When mustard seeds pop, add the next nine ingredients (tomatoes and spices). Cook for 3-4 minutes – until you have a rich red puree [see above photo].
3. Add in the beans and cook for 2-3 minutes. Then add eggplant and 1/2 cilantro and continue to cook until all vegetables are just tender.
4. Add cooked potatoes, peas and water (to provide the consistency you prefer). Cook for 1-2 minutes until warm. Garnish with remaining cilantro and serve.
5. This curry is best eaten with flatbread. Click here to find out the technique. Also, serve with some type of spicy pickle. I recommend Patak’s lime pickle, which is divine. The curry can be eaten for up to 5 days, and often tastes better on the second or third day.


cnew said...

Looks yummy! Going to make this weekend :)

Anonymous said...

Way to go!
I was wondering when you were going to pander to my peeps. I'm always looking for good vegan fare and this looks divine. I'm definitely going to try it out.


Anonymous said...

it was such a delight to read this recipe...bateta nu shak, ringna and matar all rolled into one. Mouth is watering, sir. Limbs trembling in anticipation. Fortunately I am in Delhi, so will be able to eat something suitable at lunch!