It was a dark and stormy night – Tuesday night, in fact – and dinner was on my mind like a dame with troubles in film noir. I craved something spicy and exotic yet hearty and comforting, and I needed it to be low calorie, highly nourishing, and easy to throw together. And as some sort of culinary bonus round, I wanted to use up the remnants of an old can of pumpkin which had been staring morosely at me every time I opened the fridge. What I came up with – now known as Easy Pumpkin and Potato Curry – fit the bill in every way. It was so good I’m going to start keeping canned pumpkin around on purpose, just so I can make this whenever I want. I hope you enjoy it, too.
Indian Made Easy
If you love Indian food, and want to get really decent at making it off-the-cuff, I can’t say enough for checking out VahChef and Chef Harpal Singh’s videos. They’re professional chefs who kindly share their knowledge with YouTube, and just watching them in action will give you an idea of the rhythms of Indian cooking. Once you start grasping the basics, it’s pretty easy to start experimenting on your own. They regularly use many more spices than I even own, and they use amounts that would probably singe the inside of my mouth, but by watching them I was able to get some general ideas about which spices are essential, how to use them, and what they taste good with.
To make things healthier, I don’t use nearly as much oil as they do and I substitute olive oil for ghee. One of my favorite things about Indian cooking is it’s not a precise science. If you don’t want to do things exactly like they do – don’t. Your dishes will still taste wonderful.
The Spice Route
If there’s one thing VahChef and Chef Harpal Singh have taught me, it’s that the key to cooking truly delectable Indian-style dishes is to start things off by frying your spices in a tablespoon of oil. I’m continually amazed at how much more intense and deep it makes their flavors. If you don’t already have some, this is my recommended super-basic Indian spice starter kit: ground cumin, ground coriander, chili powder, red pepper flakes, a garam masala blend and a curry powder blend (McCormick makes excellent ones you can find in most any grocery store).
You’ll also need some garlic powder and ground ginger, which you add along with other ingredients after the first spices have been fried. In a perfect world, we all have fresh garlic and ginger knocking around our kitchens at all times, but for those times when perfection eludes us, I think the powdered stuff does nicely. Like I said, this is a very basic interpretation of Indian spices, but I find it still yields wonderful flavors.
Easy Pumpkin and Potato Curry
If you’re not sure how much spice you like, use less. If you know you like a lot, use more. If you feel like a bit of a splurge, serve this with rice. If you want to keep it very low-cal, skip the rice and serve it like a stew. If you really feel like going all-out, make some chapati to go with, but plan ahead since they take a bit of time.
2 potatoes, cut into bite-size cubes
1 – 3 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 – 1 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 – 1 teaspoon ground coriander
1/2 – 1 teaspoon chili powder
a pinch – 1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes (more for heat fiends)
1 – 2 teaspoons curry powder (I use McCormick Red Curry Powder)
1 small onion, sliced
2 – 4 garlic cloves, minced OR 1 – 2 teaspoons garlic powder
2 – 4 teaspoons ginger, minced OR 1 – 2 teaspoons ground ginger
1 packet sodium-free vegetable bouillon OR 2 teaspoons herbed salt substitute like Mrs. Dash
about 1/2 – 1 cup water reserved from soaking the potatoes
1 – 1 1/2 cups canned pumpkin
about 1/3 cup soy milk
about 1 teaspoon vinegar
about 1 – 2 cups frozen peas (or whatever frozen vegetables you have handy – not corn, though)
about a teaspoon of salt or salt substitute, to taste
paprika for fanciness (optional)
Cube the potatoes and put them in a container. Cover them with water and let them soak while you get on with the curry.
Place a tablespoon of olive oil in a large pan with a lid or a wok. Heat it to medium and add the first five spices. Let them sizzle for about 2 minutes, stirring them occasionally.
Slice the onion and add it to the pan. Cook the onion for a few minutes, or until it starts to become translucent. Add the garlic and ginger, and stir everything together for a minute or so. Spoon the potatoes into the pan, keeping the water aside. Let them brown for a few minutes, stirring frequently. If the contents of the pan look extremely dry, add another tablespoon or two of olive oil for the potatoes to cook in. Once the potatoes have started to brown, stir in the vegetable bouillon and about 1/2 cup of the water reserved from the potatoes. Put a lid on the pan, turn the heat to medium low, and let everything cook for about 15 minutes. Check on it a few times, adding more potato water if things look dry.
Once the potatoes are tender, stir in the pumpkin, soy milk and vinegar, and let everything cook together for a few minutes. You should have a thick, creamy sauce going. If you’d like it to be a little thinner, stir in a bit more potato water or soy milk. Stir in the frozen veg, put the lid back on, and let everything simmer for 5 – 8 minutes longer. Once the veg are heated through, stir in the salt or salt substitute. Taste it and see what you think; add more if you want. If everything looks good, serve it up. If it looks a little thick, thin it out a bit, then serve. Sprinkle on some paprika for a shot of bright color, if you like.
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