Miracle Curry

Scott’s birthday was earlier this week – Tuesday to be exact. There wasn’t much time to celebrate since we both teach and Luca had Cub Scouts that night. We agreed to have a special birthday dinner this weekend. I asked him a number of times what he wanted. Finally, he said, “There was this curry you used to make with fake chicken. That’s what I would like.” I know it doesn’t exactly sound like a special birthday meal to most. In fact, I worried about how it would go over with the kids. Curry can be a hard sell.

Not that I haven’t tried to acclimate them to the complexities of curry and other things. I have been obsessed with making Indian food ever since I bought Madhur Jaffrey’s World Vegetarian. When we had kids, we made a conscious decision that they would eat what we do. Luca was eating Aloo Matar when he was 2 years old. Alia hasn’t been as keen, but I continue to try . . . offering and requiring her to eat some when I make it.

Our dinner table isn’t always the site of stimulating conversation and happy consumption of the night’s offerings. In fact, that is rare. The reality is, more often, kids complaining about something being “too spicy” or hot or the appearance of peas or (fill-in-the-blank). Then, there is the chef – usually me – who has unreasonably high hopes for the dish of the night only to have those hopes dashed by the little critics (I’m working on this – my mantra is, when I can remember it, “I am not responsible for others’ responses”). Then there is the plying . . . by both parents and children alike. “Is it a dessert night?” “Only if you eat your meal.” Meal sits uneaten for 10 minutes. “Is it a dessert night?” “ONLY if you eat your meal” (more tersely this time). Rinse and repeat.

Based on past experience, I envisioned Scott’s birthday meal to be another evening of discord. I didn’t want this for Scott – he is a most excellent spouse and father. Imagine my surprise when both children dug into the curry with abandon. I was waiting . . . waiting for the other shoe to drop. Instead, Luca gulped down a samosa which contains potatoes and the dreaded PEAS, which he avoids like the plague. Alia . . . Alia CLEANED HER PLATE. We conversed pleasantly telling Scott what we love about him. The kids presented him with a Cardinals tee shirt and handmade cards. It was a miracle. Or maybe it was the promise of the salted caramel cheesecake waiting in the wings.

Indian-Spiced Chicken Vegetarian-style adapted from Dave Lieberman

18 oz. Quorn Chik’n Tenders (These are made from mushrooms, believe it or not. I use them for curries and things like pot pies. You can also use chicken. See original recipe.)

1 cup whole milk plain yogurt (low-fat works too)

3 large cloves garlic, minced

1-inch piece ginger, grated

1/2 teaspoon ground cardamom

1 tablespoon curry powder (I use 1/2 tablespoon mild and 1/2 tablespoon that is spicier)

1/4 teaspoon dried red chili flakes

2 teaspoons ground coriander

1 tablespoon sweet paprika

2 tablespoons honey

1 teaspoon salt

10 grinds black pepper

3 tablespoons vegetable oil

1 medium onion, cut into medium dice

3 tablespoons tomato paste

1 1/2 cups half-and-half

1 1/2-2 cups frozen peas (I also use green beans cut in 1/2 inch pieces and sauteed over medium-high heat, then steamed until tender).

Basmati rice, for serving (This is worth making. I don’t always rinse it, but I do soak it. The result is longer, more delicate grains of rice kind of like vermicelli.)

Mix together the yogurt, garlic, ginger, cardamom, curry powder, chili flakes, coriander, paprika, honey, salt, and pepper until thoroughly combined. Add the Chik’N Tenders to yogurt mixture. Stir to coat and set aside. Start the rice and prepare the rest of the ingredients.

In a large skillet, heat the vegetable oil over medium-high heat. Add the onion and cook until translucent. Stir in tomato paste until evenly distributed and then add the half-and-half. Slide in the Chik’N mixture and peas, stir well, and bring mixture to a simmer. Reduce the heat so that the liquid remains at a low simmer. Cook about 15 minutes. Serve immediately over basmati rice.

I also served store-bought garlic naan and samosas.


Scott:      A

Angela:  A

Luca:      A (as long as I eat with curry and rice in one bite)

Alia:       A

Happy Birthday, Scott/Dad!


The T Word

Tofu. There I wrote it. My first recipe is tofu-based (or “two-foo” as Erica Weidner, contestant on “Worst Cooks in America” mispronounced it repeatedly a few weeks ago). People cringe when I say it. I am often apologetic when I suggest recipes with tofu in them. I always throw in the caveat “you can substitute chicken!” because tofu IS like chicken. The taste is subtle and it takes on the flavor of whatever I cook it with. It is versatile. It is a respite from beans for vegetarians.

There’s another word . . . vegetarian. Scott and I have been vegetarian for more than 20 years now. Inspired by John Robbins, we chose to pass on the pot roast . . . the turkey . . . the steak in the late 80s. So, tofu it is. Sometimes.

I have developed an affection for these soy bean cakes though – especially firm tofu cut into slabs, blotted dry, cubed and pan-fried in some oil over medium high heat. It develops a pleasing crispy, chewy texture. Then, if you dunk it in a coconut curry sauce . . . well, then you have a little bit of heaven in a bowl.

Coconut Curry With Tofu and Lime

adapted from This Can’t Be Tofu! by Deborah Madison
Serving Size : 4

1 carton firm tofu with about 1 TBS of peanut or vegetable oil to pan fry (Of course, you CAN substitute chicken . . . maybe about a pound of already cooked chicken?)
1 can coconut milk mixed with 1/2 cup water or stock (I use water with about 1/4 tsp. Better than Bouillon for that nice umami flavor)
2 teaspoons light brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon ground coriander
2 teaspoons curry powder (I use 1 tsp. mild and 1 tsp. that is spicier)
1/2 teaspoon turmeric
1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 teaspoon tamarind paste dissolved in 1/2 cup hot water (I have a block of this kicking around in the back of my fridge. We bought it years ago at our local international grocery . . . it keeps indefinitely and is worth buying if you plan to do any Asian or Indian cooking. If you can’t find it easily, there are substitute suggestions online.)
2 large garlic cloves, finely chopped
1 tablespoon ginger, finely chopped
2 Roma tomatoes, diced small
2 scallions including the firm greens, chopped
juice of 1 lime
mushroom soy sauce, to taste (Mushroom soy sauce gives another hit of that umami or savory flavor. It is one of my secret ingredients. It elevates dishes from somewhat flavorful to bursting with flavor. It makes the difference in soup as well.)
chopped cilantro

Drain the tofu, pat dry with paper towel, then dice it into 1/2-inch cubes. Heat oil to medium high in a heavy skillet (I use cast iron). Brown tofu turning occasionally to get as many sides as possible. Set tofu aside.

Combine the next ten ingredients in the skillet. Bring to a boil and simmer for 1 minute. Add the tofu, lower the heat, and simmer, covered for 10 minutes. Add the tomatoes and scallions, and simmer 5 minutes more.

Add the lime juice. Season to taste with a teaspoon or more mushroom soy sauce. Serve garnished with chopped cilantro over basmati rice or noodles.


Note: Both Scott and I are professors, so the letter grades make sense to me for now. 

Me:                                    A

Scott:                                 B

Luca (8 year-old foodie):              D (“It was too spicy.”)

Alia (4 year-old food terrorist):      A (“It was very good!”)