Traveler’s Vegetable Curry

travel-vegetable-curryI’m baaaaack! Did you miss me? I spent three & a half weeks in Brazil, but it seems like months: everything is so green and lush at home, strawberries have come and gone (and maybe cherries too?), when I left school was still in session, but now it’s after the 4th of July and summer is in full swing.

First things first: did you see the game yesterday?? My, oh my, oh my. Poor Brazil. I feel somewhat guilty (like somehow, if I had stayed, Brazil could have held the Germans to “only” a 5 – 0 shellacking), but also somewhat glad that I escaped before I had to suffer through that game in Copacabana. And yet, in the unrelenting way of world football, Brazil’s dashed dreams are set aside as we prepare for the other semi-final this afternoon and the Big Game on Sunday.

I traveled all over Brazil while following the US team during the Cup: 10 flights, 9 cities, 4 matches and lots and lots of bad beer and french fries. Easily one of my favorite stops was Serrambi, a coastal resort town at the tip of Ipojuca. A group of us rented a lovely house there, with the beach lapping right against the house, a pool, and a fabulous covered bar area, complete with kitchen, in which my partner in culinary crime & I whipped up many a meal during our stay.

serrambiBy the time we reached the Serrambi house, most of us had been traveling in Brazil for 10 days or more. Brazilian cuisine, like much of Central & South America, is heavy on meat, rice and beans, not so much on fresh vegetables or salads. I think you find this a lot, really, most places you travel: eating out, especially in the bar/pub/casual restaurant venue, tends to be focused on heavy, rich, filling foods – meat, starch, fat. It doesn’t really reflect how people cook at home, no matter where you travel. I’m here to tell you that it only takes about a week of the french-fries-and-Skol diet for your body to start seriously craving a vegetable – any vegetable.

Enter traveler’s vegetable curry. It’s easy, even in a limited one pot-one knife-one spoon rental kitchen. It’s quick. It can feed a crowd. It’s cheap. It’s eminently adaptable to whatever ingredients you can find. It’s a vegetarian dish that even the most dedicated carnivore will love. Best of all, once you’ve made it a couple of times, you’ll easily be able to whip it up off the top of your head and adapt to taste on the fly.

Only two things are really essential to a traveler’s curry: curry powder and coconut milk. I’ve found prepared curry powder in the unlikeliest of places (which always seems to be labeled “curry” regardless of the local language), but if you can’t find it, you might try making your own version; cumin, coriander and turmeric are ubiquitous in many parts of the world. Of course, finding a way to grind the spices in your rental kitchen might be the biggest challenge of all. Coconut milk also pops up in the strangest places, but if you can’t find any, you could try adding some boiling water to dried coconut flakes, then whipping in a blender or food processor.

serrambi4Other than curry & coconut milk, you really only need vegetables: great, whacking handfuls of them. Onion, garlic, ginger, carrot, peppers, chile, green beans, asparagus, peas, cauliflower, broccoli, kohlrabi, kale and potato, leafy greens, root veg: in my time, I’ve curried ’em all. Tropical fruits also go nicely in a curry: lime, of course, but also lemon or other citrus fruits, mango, pineapple, passion fruit or melon, even apple or pear. My version in Serrambi included mango juice, to sweeten up the somewhat bitter curry powder, and chunks of fresh pineapple. In South Africa I made a version with chick peas, peanut butter, baby corn and some random African chile powder mix. It really is the best kind of kitchen sink cooking.

As outlined below, for about two cans of coconut milk, I estimate about 6 cups of chopped vegetables and about 2 – 3 tablespoons of curry powder. Of course, this all has quite a bit of leeway and you should taste and adjust all throughout the cooking process. Save a bit of your coconut milk and curry powder for adjustments at the end, and remember to add heartier vegetables first, then add more delicate vegetables at the end of the cooking time, and any fresh herbs stir in off heat. My last piece of advice? Keep your fingers well away from the serving dish once the curry is finally ready and reserve a portion for the cook: you have no idea how quickly it will disappear!

travel-vegetable-curryTraveler’s Vegetable Curry

INGREDIENTS

  • 3 tbsp olive oil or ghee
  • 6 cloves garlic, minced
  • one 3-inch section fresh ginger, grated (no need to peel)
  • 4 – 5 small green Thai chiles, coarsely chopped, with or without seeds
  • 2 – 3 tbsp curry powder
  • 2, 15-oz cans coconut milk (preferably not “light”)
  • one large yellow onion, chopped
  • 3 scallions, sliced, white & green parts divided
  • 3 medium carrots, peeled and sliced
  • 1 large yellow bell pepper, diced
  • 1 large red bell pepper, sliced
  • 1 lb sugar snap peas, strings peeled (blanch in boiling water and chill in an ice bath to maintain brightest green color, but I often skip this step while traveling)
  • salt, to taste (if your curry powder contains no salt, you’ll need at least a teaspoon)
  • 2 tbsp kaffir lime jelly (for balancing the slightly bitter curry powder; sweetening is not always necessary, depending on the sweetness of your curry and/or coconut milk)
  • zest + juice of 1 lime, plus extra lime for serving
  • cooked rice, for serving
  • fresh cilantro, chopped, for serving

METHODS

  1. Heat olive oil or ghee over medium heat in a large, heavy-bottomed skillet or Dutch oven. Add garlic, ginger and Thai chiles and fry, stirring, until fragrant, about 2 minutes. Add curry powder and fry, stirring constantly, for about 1 minute. Add coconut milk and stir briskly until sauce is uniform and comes back to a boil.
  2. Add onion, white parts of scallions (reserve green parts) and carrots. Stir and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer, uncovered, stirring occasionally, until sauce is thickened and vegetables are crisp-tender, about 10 minutes. Add bell pepper and snap peas. Taste and adjust salt. Cover and simmer until vegetables are crisp-tender, about 3 – 5 minutes. Taste and adjust seasonings: sweeten with fruit juice, fresh fruit, honey or jam if necessary. Remove from heat and stir in lime zest + juice and green parts of scallions. Serve hot over cooked rice and garnish liberally with fresh cilantro.

Serves 10.

travel-vegetable-curryOPTIONS

  1. You can often find a bounty of whole spices when you travel: mustard seed, fenugreek, poppy, fennel, cumin seed, any of these would make a great addition to the curry. Add in the initial fry step with the curry powder.
  2. As noted above, this works with almost any combination of vegetables: I’ve outlined specifically the version I made yesterday, but go with whatever is available and/or seasonal in your locale. Don’t worry overmuch about measuring or amounts – more vegetables will simply need to cook a bit longer, fewer vegetables means more sauce for soaking up with rice.

STORE

If you’re traveling with a crowd, there won’t be any left, I guarantee. But if you’re making this at home, flavors will blend and improve over time: this is even better on the second day. Store refrigerated, rice & curry separately, for up to 5 days.

SEASON

Whatever season it is where you are.

 

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39 comments

    • You can do it either way, Vasun. Sometimes I add the onions after the curry powder (if you add them before, the curry powder doesn’t really “toast” as the onions are too wet) and before the coconut milk. But often I like to focus purely on making a nicely smooth and homogenous curry sauce, then add the vegetables. I don’t find that an initial saute of the onions adds much in terms of flavor, so it doesn’t matter much when you add them.

      • Hi Kaela, I’ll try your method. Normally for indian curries, the onions are slightly browned and before adding the curry paste. Thanks for the tip!

        • Hi Vashun,

          I do do this often – for vindaloo especially and the browner curries. In this particular version, I don’t find it makes a lot of difference, but then I like to keep the bright yellow flavor, so even when I saute them first, I keep it short, 3 – 5 minutes. Either way will work fine, I’m sure!

  1. EL

    Love this post. My father and I went to Patagonia. Chile wasn’t too bad as far as veggies go, but by the time I was in Argentina I was craving veggies. Unfortunately we weren’t staying in places that had a cooking option, so I was ordering any salads I could get! So I certainly appreciate this.

  2. This reminds me of a vegan potluck I went to once. Full of travellers and I made a curry similar to this. Particularly when travelling there can be people with many different kinds of diets. It’s nice to be able to cook something that everyone can eat. Not many recipes out there are gluten free and dairy free and meat free and suitable for a crowd.

    • I hadn’t thought about it, but yes, it is vegan (assuming you avoid ghee), gluten-free, sugar-free, cholesterol-free, dairy-free, egg-free etc., etc. I suppose it’s even Paleo if you avoid the rice (although the curry-sauce-soaked rice is the best part!).

      We did have a vegetarian in our crew and this was the easiest dinner; on other nights, we sort of jiggered around the meat or she came up with something entirely different on her own.

  3. Welcome back, I did indeed miss you!!! Not sure how “local” cherry crazy you are but down here in Jersey it has been bad…NO local cherries…and especially NO sour cherries. I’m dying a little inside. My husband’s favorite jam in the whole world is your sour cherry bam! We only have two 1/2 pints for another whole year!!! I’ve been searching everywhere for pick your owns or anyone who has sour cherries. Have you ever heard of Fix Brothers fruit farm? They are in the Hudson Valley. Supposedly, they have a great crop of black sour cherries that should be ready for pick-your-own by the 12th of July. It would be a three hour drive for me but I’m almost thinking about it.

    • I have heard of Fix Brothers – people rave and friends of mine have gone there. They say it’s great, but I haven’t been. The standard advice is to get there early, especially for the Morello cherries – they get picked out in a day.

      • Ahhhh….Crap! I’m sure people will be stampeding since they didn’t do pick-your-own for the sweet and regular tart cherries. This is all your fault remember, the windows! All that stupid snow!!!

  4. I just made my own coconut milk on a whim AND got a ton of snap peas from the CSA (I call my curry “All the Leftovers Curry” but I’ve never tried snap peas), so this is on my radar for the weekend! Sounds like a great trip!

  5. Yeah! You’re back! I missed reading your blog so much I bought 40 pounds of rhubarb and cooked many of your rhubarb recipes. I’m not sure but the rhubarb, strawberry and caramelized jam might have surpassed the rhubarb, cherry and red wine preserves (my favorite for the last two years). Can’t wait here more world cup stories.

    • Aw, thanks! I missed you guys too; being in the World Cup traveling bubble is always strange. Fun, but strange. It’s like the rest of the world just fades away. Truly a vacation from everyday life, if mostly an exhausting one!

  6. I call these inspired dishes, because they’re inspired from Thai or Indian cuisine. And you’re right. Curry powder and coconut milk would make cardboard edible!!!

  7. This post makes me want to go on a trip just so I can try the recipe out in an unfamiliar kitchen. I love the idea of recipes designed specifically for when you’re traveling. Whenever I try to cook in a rental kitchen I usually end up swearing up a storm and wishing I was home. Thanks for the tips, and the amazing recipe!

  8. Jen

    Thanks for this!! We are in the middle of moving and chaos and I just made this for lunch while cleaning out the cupboards, fridge, and freezer. I was so close to calling Jimmy Johns- but your curry saved the day! ( and now I don’t have to figure out dinner…:) (I used spinach, peas, chicken, onions, and basil).

  9. Pingback: Inspiration for the weekend

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