A template for curry.

 

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.


CURRY TEMPLATE

Ingredients

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)

Method:
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.

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Taking stock at midwinter.

 

 

 

 

The forecast for the next week looks damp and chilly, as befits this time of year in New England. But now at least we can look forward to the gradual returning of the light, and the promise of warm days to come. Eventually.

It’s is a good time to put your house in order – including your freezer and cupboards. Take those old, tired spices you never did get around to using again after that one experimental recipe and throw them on the fire. Clean and store the jars away for other treasures to come along and fill them – they always do, if you’re patient, and paying attention.

Tamar Adler’s wonderful book An Everlasting Meal transformed my whole way of thinking about cooking. She (and her endlessly inspiring predecessor, M.F.K. Fisher) showed me that a thrifty, creative cook is a clever cook. A clever cook prepares what she has today for tomorrow. She saves the bits and pieces that others discard and uses them to enrich and enliven future meals (and stretch her budget, to boot). So this morning, I’m making stock.

I find I have an awful lot to say about stock. It’s just magic in a pot, and the very foundation of clever cooking. Best of all, it is essentially free. The soups I made in my twenties and thirties always tasted a bit flat, no matter how much salt I added to them. It wasn’t until I finally started making my own stock – initially in order to save money – that I realized this was the vital ingredient they’d been missing.

Recipes for homemade stock or broth abound. Most tell you to chop a couple of onions, carrots, and celery stalks, add a few chicken wings or at best a picked-over roast chicken carcass, cover with water, and simmer for a couple of hours. The result is adequate, but frankly rather dull. Also, you could’ve used those perfectly good whole vegetables in another recipe. No no no – a clever cook makes her stock from bones, ends, and skins. This way, every chicken, every onion, every carrot and stalk of celery feeds you at least twice.

This morning, half a dozen bags of frozen vegetable scraps and chicken bones went into my largest pot. In went long pepper, red pepper flakes, juniper berries, spicebush berries (Lindera benzoin), monarda leaves (Monarda fistulosa), wild bay leaves (Myrica pensylvanica), a pinch of ground wild carrot seed (Daucus carota)*, and dried mushrooms and onions leftover from when we made mushroom ketchup last fall. In went a few rinds of hard cheese, a hank of dried silk from the last sweet corn of summer, a few glugs of the aforementioned mushroom ketchup, a few crumbled sun-dried tomatoes, and a splash of scrap apple vinegar for brightness and to help leach more calcium from the chicken bones.

Some of these ingredients sound expensive, but in fact most were free, either grown or foraged over the past year. It’s a delight to have a pantry full of these interesting, flavorful bits and pieces – leaves, flowers, mushrooms, twigs, bark, and seeds. Like an artist’s palette, you want a wide range of colors (or flavors) to play with. I use mondarda in place of oregano, and wild carrot seed in place of anise or any liquorice-flavored spice*. Spicebush berries can be substituted for allspice and nutmeg. These odds and ends also add much-needed bacterial and nutritional diversity to our diet. By utilizing wild food plants, my cooking takes on the flavor of our landscape and seasons.

I cover the lot with cold well water and set it to barely simmer all weekend (you can also use a slow cooker) before straining and decanting it into quart Mason jars (my largest pot, filled with scraps, makes nine quarts of four cups each). I don’t bother clarifying it. I decant warm stock into the jars let them cool, either in the fridge or on our back porch in cold weather (like today). The fat will rise to the top and congeal. Some cooks scrape this off and discard it. Not me. I’ll freeze the lot, with the fat capped on top. When it comes time to use some stock, I’ll scrape off that congealed fat with a spoon and use it as a cooking fat, to sauté vegetables. Kind of a lazy cook’s schmaltz.

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I’ll use my homemade stock as a base for soups, rice dishes, curries – any savory recipe that calls for water or stock – for weeks and even months to come. In this way, I can pour the best bits of last year’s meals over into the next.

And chicken is not the only kind of stock you can make from odds and ends:

In summer, I buy the freshest, sweetest local corn I can find and use the fresh, stripped cobs and corn silk to make corn stock. It’s amazingly sweet and vegetal, perfect for seafood chowder – a glint of summer in a wintery dish. I also dry corn silks for use in tea (it’s light, delicious, and helps support urinary tract health) and to add to my chicken and veg scrap stock base. I store them in quart Mason jars in my pantry.

I also save back pork and beef bones for their own stocks, especially good as a base for split pea and ham soup, or beef, game, or mushroom stews. I’ve been known to ask hosts at parties if I could take home any leftover bones for stock. Every single one has been delighted that I would get some use out of them, and it saved them from having to just throw them away.

And then there’s mushroom stock – also excellent in beef or game stews, in a cream of mushroom soup, or to make a deeply flavored mushroom risotto. The discarded stems of shiitake are excellent for this, since they are generally too fibrous to eat and are usually discarded. Any dried mushrooms can be used for stock.

If you’ve never tried making your own stock, I really encourage you to give it a try. You’ll be so proud of yourself, and your cooking will benefit immensely from it. You’ll save money by not buying stock or broth at the store, and you’ll know exactly what goes into it. Just start tossing your scraps into a container in the freezer; when it’s full, it’s time to make stock.

Who says you can’t get something for nothing? A clever cook can.

 

*Note: Don’t use wild carrot seed if you are pregnant or trying to become pregnant.