The winter blues are advancing here. The holiday lights have been packed up and stored, the produce is sad and flown in from really far away, and we still face months of cold and snow. So a friend and I decided to kick the winter blues with a totally irrational midweek, co-hosted, spicy Indian meal with ten fabulous friends!
This Megan-simple recipe from our menu turns out to also be super fast, vegan, gluten-free, inexpensive, winter-friendly (frozen and canned ingredients totally fine) and yummy! This simplified recipe relies on ingredients that are easily available in a fairly well-stocked pantry, or everyday grocery store. Don’t be frightened by the long list — this is actually very easy to make.
Our full menu:
-Pulao with spicy ground lamb
-Lots of champagne, wine, and locally crafted beers
-Random leftover holiday sweets for dessert
- 1 12 oz can diced tomatoes
- 4 tablespoons canola oil (or other vegetable oil. If you are not vegan, replace one tablespoon with butter)
- 2 teaspoons black mustard seed (okay, that’s the one ingredient you may not have in your pantry. If you don’t have it, substitute ½ teaspoon yellow mustard powder)
- 1 large diced onion
- 4 cloves garlic
- ¾ tsp dried ginger
- 3½ teaspoons curry powder
- 2 teaspoons garam masala
- 1 teaspoon ground cumin
- ¼ teaspoon cinnamon
- ½ teaspoon black pepper
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 2 10 oz. packages of frozen spinach
- 2 cans chickpeas (garbanzo beans)
- Cayenne pepper (optional)
Line up your ingredients on the counter. The cooking goes super fast, so you don’t want to be hunting through your cabinet for the spices. Measure your spices EXCEPT for the mustard seed and cayenne into a little bowl. Chop your onion. If you don’t have a garlic press, chop your garlic. Open your can of tomatoes. Open your cans of chickpeas and rinse them in a colander. Leave them in the colander. If you want rice with your meal, pop it in the rice cooker now.
- Heat a large sauté pan or wok on medium high. Add the oil and let it heat through just until a drop of water added to the pan sizzles.
- Do you have black mustard seed? If not, skip this step. Add your mustard seeds to the oil. Let them sizzle in the oil for two minutes (they may begin to pop). Shake your pan to keep them from burning.
- Add the onions and sauté for 5-7 minutes, until the onions are getting translucent.
- Add the garlic and sauté for another two minutes. If anything is getting brown, turn your heat down a little.
- Add the spices and salt, stir constantly for one minute. (Didn’t have black mustard seed? Then this is where you will be adding the yellow mustard).
- After a minute, pour in ½ of your tomato can and sauté for another minute. Add the remaining tomatoes and sauté for another minute.
- Add the chickpeas and sauté for another minute.
- Add one bag of spinach and sauté for another minute.
- Add the last bag of spinach and sauté for another minute.
- Taste — Would you like more heat? Add a pinch or two of cayenne pepper and stir well.
- If there is no liquid left in our pan at this point, add ¼ cup water. Allow to simmer for five minutes.
- Taste — would you like more heat? Add another pinch of cayenne pepper. More flavor? Sprinkle on more salt, curry powder, and/or garam masala.
Tips for beginning cooks:
- Curry powders and garam masala vary dramatically in their ingredients. Try out different ones to see what you like. Some may have hot pepper added, so be cautious with adding the cayenne until you have tasted.
- Freshness impacts flavor. So you may find that you need to add lots more curry or garam masala, or you may find that it tastes perfect with the amounts listed here.
Tips for intermediate and advanced cooks:
- Curry powders that contain saffron are more expensive, but provide a nice flavor profile for this dish. I love Penzey’s Maharajah curry powder, but I also keep my own homemade blend on hand.
- Garam masalas often contain cumin, because it’s cheap (the Laxmi brand that you can find in most Indian stores is mostly cumin). I prefer using a garam masala that has no cumin. I usually blend my own with peppercorns, cardamom, cinnamon, cloves, ginger, nutmeg, and bay leaves. If I have to use a prepared one, I like Penzey’s the best (it also has coriander and caraway), and Frontier second. If you are stuck with a cheap one, skip the cumin in the recipe and substitute more garam masala.