One day last week, while dinner simmered on the stovetop, while, upstairs, my younger two played at a confrontation between construction equipment and Schleich animals, while my husband (in an anomalous moment of peace) sat beneath the lamplight in the living room and finished reading the last few pages of a book, while the November rain fell and the early darkness deepened, I dashed out to collect my older son from a friend’s house.
As I let myself in through the front door, I called to my friend, “Mmm…Dinner smells good!” And it did. Faintly garlicky and warm with a hint of something round and sweet baking below. She shrugged off the compliment: “Just spaghetti. Nothing exotic. What’s cooking at your house?”
“Curry,” I answered.
And she looked obligingly amazed. “Wow! Thai? Indian? Pakistani?” she asked.
“Oh, gosh, I said. Who knows? Hoosier curry, I guess. But I’m not entertaining the Indian Prime Minister or anything, so that’s okay with me.”
When it comes to this curry, that’s my story, and I’m sticking to it. Is it a curry? Absolutely. Is it an “authentic” curry? I have no idea. I’m a very provincial person, utterly clueless when it comes to the traditional ways of global cuisine. Do I know Indian curry from Thai or Pakistani? No. But, in my defense, I know what tastes good. And I know what’s easy. This recipe is both.
It’s a kid-friendly curry with a rounded, creamy flavor (thanks to a whole can of coconut milk) and no ingredients you can’t locate in your average small-town grocery store. Actually, with the possible exception of said coconut milk, it’s likely that you already have everything you need hanging out in your fridge and your pantry. Skeptical? Watch this:
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 medium onion, peeled and diced
2 medium red potatoes, scrubbed and diced to match the onions
2-3 tablespoons of mild (a.k.a. “sweet”) curry powder
4 cloves garlic, minced through a press
1 tablespoon fresh ginger, grated (optional)
1 hot pepper, chopped (optional)
1 1/2 cups chickpeas
1/2 medium head of cauliflower, washed and separated into smallish florets
1 can tomatoes
1 1/2-2 cups water
1 lb. frozen spinach
1 can coconut milk (I think it’s better with full-fat coconut milk–not “lite”)
fresh lime wedges and cooked rice, for serving
1. Begin by heating your olive oil over medium heat in a large skillet. Then add your chopped onions and potatoes. Cook them for several minutes, stirring frequently, until the onions are softened and the potatoes are al dente. Then stir in the curry powder, the garlic, and the ginger and chopped chili pepper, if you’re using them. Stir to toast up the spices. Then salt the mixture liberally.
2. Next, add to the pan the whole can of tomatoes (juice and all), the water, and the chickpeas. Bring to a boil and then cover and simmer for about 10 minutes.
3.Then add the cauliflower and spinach and return the pan to a simmer. The goal is to soften the potatoes and the cauliflower without turning it all to mush. This should take about another 10 minutes.
4. Once it’s all tender, turn the heat off and then add the coconut milk. You will also probably need to salt it a good bit. This dish always takes more salt than I expect it to take. If it’s tasting flat or unimpressive, don’t be afraid of the salt. That’s probably what’s missing. Don’t boil it once you add the coconut milk: boiling destroys the silkiness, and you don’t want to lose that.
5. Serve over rice with a little lime juice spritzed over the top. If you have kids who aren’t used to dishes with lots of spice, you might also offer a bit of plain yogurt to help them tone it down to suit their tastes. After all, an extra dose of dairy fat, calcium, and beneficial bacteria can’t hurt ’em!