As an erstwhile farm boy from Pennsylvania, I did not grow up eating curry. We had plenty of carrots and turnips and potatoes and cabbage, but they were boiled, mostly, and served tossed with butter. Once in a while the cabbage would be served sprinkled with poppy seeds - a special and exotic treat. Then I moved to New York City and started learning about authentic international cuisine. One restaurant in particular, a pan-Indian spot called Tiffin Wallah, introduced me to many versions of the dish which, as it turns out, changes drastically from region to region. There, they serve saucy curries from Gujarati cuisine made silky with coconut milk and saucy tomato-based Punjabi curries, among many other styles. They are all vegetarian and they are all delicious.
But it was the Karnataka curries, from the south-west of the country that really caught my attention. These are dry curries, mostly, that you scoop up with flatbread instead of slurping with a spoon (if you’re an American, like me). They are cooked with less liquid and that liquid is allowed to evaporate, making for a more intensely spiced dish, full of deep flavor.
Now I’m back in farm country, surrounded once again by carrots and turnips and potatoes and cabbage. But I have a new arsenal of technique and influence to lean on. Instead of boiling and tossing with butter, I’ve taken to letting these veggies stew in a thick, heavily spiced sauce until the liquid has almost entirely disappeared. It’s just the kind of deep flavor that will get us through our northeastern winters. -Ian
Vegetarian Dry Curry
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 large onion, chopped
1 head of garlic, peeled and sliced
2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh ginger
1 tablespoon coriander seed
1 tablespoon cumin seed
1 tablespoon black mustard seed
3 tablespoons harissa
1 quart pureed whole tomatoes in juice
2 cups water
1 pound carrots, peeled and sliced
1 pound potatoes, peeled and diced
1/2 pound turnips, peeled and diced
1 small head cabbage, chopped
1 cup unsweetened dried coconut
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 cup baby spinach leaves
Heat the oil in a large heavy pot over medium high heat. Stir in the onion, garlic, and ginger and cook, stirring occasionally, until golden brown, about 8 minutes. Stir in the coriander, cumin, and mustard seeds and cook, stirring until the mustard seeds start to pop, about 2 minutes. Stir in the harissa and cook until fragrant, about 1 minute. Stir in the tomatoes, water, carrots, potatoes, turnips, cabbage, coconut, 2 teaspoons salt, and 3/4 teaspoon pepper and bring to a simmer. Simmer the curry, covered, until the vegetables are tender, about 20 minutes. Uncover the pot and continue to simmer until most of the liquid has been evaporated, about 15 minutes. Season with salt and pepper to taste, then stir in the spinach and serve.