Curries, like comforting stews and chowders, are a staple at our house during the cold, dark months. Even my picky teenager wolfs down second and third helpings. He doesn’t even ask what’s in it anymore. The earliest known recipe for a curry (in English) is Hannah Glasse’s “To make a Curry the Indian Way,” published in 1747. I’ve made this recipe, and found it really delicious. But it’s not my curry.
I used to have a dozen or so recipes for curry (Pinterest makes this easier than ever) – now I have one, from which I can make all the others. A template recipe is a foundation from which to improvise, based on (in order of importance) what needs using up, what’s on hand, and what’s on sale or – even better – free.
Template recipes make using up leftovers so much easier. You can create templates for soups, casseroles, cold meat salads (think tuna or chicken), even pasta sauces. Curry is an especially flexible dish, perfect for using up all those bits and pieces languishing in your fridge, freezer, and pantry. This is a great time to go through the fridge and pull out the last couple tablespoons of ketchup, barbecue sauce, honey mustard, salsa, or preserves from their bottles. That last little bit of sour cream or plain yogurt? In it goes. Half a can of beans? You bet. A few floppy carrots from the crisper drawer? I won’t tell if you don’t. Even cold takeout French fries can be roughly chopped and tossed in – they’re only potatoes, after all. And already cooked, which will save you time. Leftover greens (cooked or raw) are another fantastic addition.
The photos above are from a curry I made on Christmas Day using leftover cooked chicken, dehydrated and frozen tomatoes, blanched and frozen chicken-of-the-woods mushrooms, and blanched and frozen nettles, so very little actual cooking time (or cost) for this one.
1-2 T fat (e.g., ghee, butter, olive oil, coconut, sunflower, bacon grease, etc.)
1 pound (1-2 cups) meat of any kind, cubed (optional – for vegetarian/vegan simply omit and add an extra cup of vegetables; you can also use boiled eggs instead of meat – slice or roughly chop and add at the end, warm through, and serve)
2 C vegetables, 1″ dice (carrots, sweet potatoes, potatoes, greens, broccoli, cauliflower, mushrooms, bell peppers, squash – the sky is pretty much the limit)
1 medium onion (or two small), 1″ dice
1 6-oz can tomato paste
1 14-oz can coconut milk (check the Mexican foods section of your supermarket – for some reason it’s often cheaper there than in the Asian foods section)
1/2 C sour cream or crème fraîche (optional; you can also use yogurt, but wait until the end to add it or it might curdle)
Any odds and ends of condiments, ketchup packets, the last spoonful of chutney or preserves in that jar, a bit of salsa or pasta sauce, the small plastic cup of ranch dressing from your takeout salad at lunch – any little bits and pieces that aren’t worth much on their own and need using up. Clean out your fridge! I know it sounds weird, but trust me – no one will ever know.
1/2 t salt
1 T curry powder (I’ll post later on how to make your own)
1 T garam masala (if you don’t have any, just add another T curry powder)
1 t red pepper flakes (or substitute 1 minced jalapeno – or omit entirely, if you don’t like your curry spicy)
1 C red lentils (if using split peas or green or brown lentils, simply increase cooking time as needed)
1 quart of stock (tips here on making your own)
Half a small package of frozen peas
1 big handful (or a quart freezer bag) of either fresh or frozen greens, chopped (remove and chop any large ribs or stalks like broccoli, cauliflower, collards, or chard – add them to your other vegetables above)
In a stew pot, heat a tablespoon or two of whatever fat you have and brown your meat and/or onions. Into a mixing bowl goes the tomato paste, coconut milk, sour cream, odds and ends, salt, and dried spices. Pour this over your meat and/or veg, cover, and simmer until veg starts to soften (check after 10 minutes or so – meanwhile, use this time to chop your greens, clean up a bit, or admire all the new freed-up space in your fridge). Add lentils and stock to the pot; cover and simmer until lentils are done and meat and veg are completely cooked. Then add the peas and greens. Cook until raw greens have wilted and everything is heated through – you want the consistency of a really thick stew. Check to see if it needs more salt, black pepper, or maybe a squirt of lime juice for brightness. If you use pre-cooked meat and/or veg, you can eliminate some cooking time; just simmer long enough for everything to heat through and to give the flavors a little time to blend.
Serve over rice (always make extra!) or on toast, maybe even topped with a fried egg if you’re feeling extra indulgent. It’s also delicious the next day on a taco, topped with a crunchy, vinegary slaw. Make an extra batch if you’re able and freeze it for future meals.
It’s fun to try new recipes, and see other cooks’ variations on different dishes. Using a template, you can make a slightly different curry, every time, and they will all be your own creations, and no one else’s. You’ll save time, money, trips to the store, use less gas/electricity, and reduce your food waste – and create a delicious, warming meal. That’s a lot to feel good about.
Bonus! A video clip on making Leftover Pumpkin Pie and Turkey Curry – never the same meal twice!
Do you have a favorite template recipe? Leave a comment – I’d love to hear about it.