This summer curry was inspired by kitchen strays wilting on my counter and a cup of coconut milk leftover from a batch of ice cream—none of which should go to waste at any time, but especially not during a worldwide pandemic. Every fresh thing in this stew was approaching use-it-or-lose-it status but you would never know it judging by the luscious result—as is so often the case when cooking, the sum is so much greater than its humble parts.
A tin of good curry powder provides the shortcut of the title, a warm and familiar blend of beloved Indian spices that is a boon for home cooks, who may not maintain a cupboard filled with the many indigenous spices of the Indian subcontinent, but who long to create a comforting curry in their own kitchen. Augmented by the zing of fresh garlic, ginger and chilies, this sumptuous sauce wakes up a common pot of vegetables and transforms them into a memorable meal.
It turns out curry powder is an invention of 18th century British colonialists, who savored the complex flavors of Indian cuisine but possessed neither the talent or knowledge to reproduce the genuine article. The result is a spice blend that varies from region to region—and even from continent to continent since there are Jamaican, Thai, and Japanese blends as well—but most feature a combination of spices including turmeric, cumin, fennel, cloves, and anise. Ultimately, what curry powder lacks in authenticity, it makes up for with sunny colors, enticing aromas, and big flavors.
2 T. extra virgin olive oil
1 large red or green pepper, seeded and chopped in 1-inch chunks
1 large jalapeno pepper, halved, seeded and sliced into thin crescents
1 large onion, halved and thinly sliced
1 large clove garlic, minced
1 1-inch knob fresh peeled ginger, grated or minced
2 heaping T. curry powder
3-4 fresh plum tomatoes, chopped, or 1 14-oz can diced tomatoes
1 large baking potato, peeled and cut into 1-inch chunks
1 large handful (about 1 C.) green or yellow wax beans cut into 1-inch pieces
½-1 14-oz. can coconut milk (1-2 C.)
Additional water if necessary, to thin
Salt generously to taste
Handful fresh basil leaves, chopped
Optional: Carrots cut into 1-inch chunks
Tip: Ginger root keeps for many months in a Ziplock snack bag in the freezer. Just break off a knob (or cut a chunk), peel with a vegetable peeler, and use as directed.
Coconut milk notes:
- Leftover coconut milk freezes very well.
- For a more tomato-forward gravy use half a can of coconut milk; for a richer, creamier sauce use the full can. If using the full can, you may want to increase the volume of vegetables and adjust the seasoning.
- Although I most often have a half can of full fat coconut milk left over from ice cream making (which can only be made with full fat), full or reduced fat are both fine in this application.
- Heat most of the oil (except about 1 tsp.) over medium-high heat in a large heavy skillet and sauté onions and peppers until beginning to soften, about 8 minutes. Make a little space in the middle of the pan, add remaining tsp. of oil and scrape in garlic and ginger. Fry for 1 minute, then stir into the vegetable mixture. Add curry powder and a pinch of salt and stir well to coat vegetables and toast curry spices for a minute or two.
- Reduce heat to medium and add tomatoes. Cover and cook for about 10 minutes until tomatoes are beginning to break down, stirring every so often. Stir coconut milk into tomato gravy, scraping any fond from bottom of pan.
- Add beans and potatoes on top of sauce, but do not stir, and season with another pinch of salt. (Add carrots at this time if using.) Cover and steam on top of curry sauce for about 10 minutes.
- Stir beans and potatoes (and carrots if using) into curry sauce and simmer for another 10 minutes, until potatoes are very soft. Add a few drops of water if necessary. Uncover and cook a little longer to thicken sauce; mash a few potatoes into the sauce with the back of a wooden spoon to help thicken if necessary. Turn off heat and stir in chopped basil.
- Serve alone as a stew or ladled over hot rice.