It’s the new year, full of possibility and excitement! Hooray!
But, now that the holidays are over, and the festivities (and hangovers) of New Years celebrations are behind us, it’s (ugh) time to return to the grind of our daily lives. And, as the weeks pass, and the resolutions made December 31st, (exercise more, eat healthy, cut down on the booze, don’t blow the rent money at the casino), give way to the excuses of reality (I’m tired. It’s cold outside. That horse was supposed to be a sure bet!), we can at least try to keep our resolve to eat healthy for a little while longer.
Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not suggesting you start eating two cucumbers, four stalks of celery, and a head of lettuce for every meal. But, adding some vegetarian dishes to your repertoire, and maybe cutting your meat intake down to a couple of meals a week, will allow you to feel like a new you, even if you’re actually not a new you. It’s more like a refurbished you.
Lets talk a little bit about Indian food. I know, I know, it can seem very intimidating, with all the spices, and exotic flavours. Maybe you don’t like spicy food at all. Maybe you were raised on bland, inoffensive fare like meat and potatoes. But, remember dammit, this is supposed to be a new you! Brave, confident, bold! And Indian food is a great way to get out of your comfort zone.
Indian cuisine is perfect for the small kitchen lifestyle. Most of the food is prepared on the stove top, using simple ingredients, and cooking techniques. Much of the food is vegetarian, and incorporates many of the building blocks of a healthy diet, (e.g. dairy products, lentils, grains, etc…) The spices help aid in digestion, and the amount of heat in the dish can be easily tailored to the wimpiest palate. There’s a reason that the British, (not generally known for exciting cuisine), made a humble chicken curry their national dish.
One of the key components of Indian cooking is the garam masala spice mix. Typically, the mix consists of:
- Black pepper
- Coriander seeds
The whole spices are usually toasted, then ground together. Each region of India has its own blend, and many families have their own unique mixtures within those regions. I personally prefer to go with a 2:2:1:2:2:1:2 ratio for my garam masala. You can buy pre-made garam masala in most grocery stores, but I find that it is more cost-effective, and fun, to make my own. You can use pre-ground spices, but the resulting mix will be nowhere near as aromatic. That is because many of these spices begin to lose the potency of their essential oils as soon as they are ground. You’ll find that whole spices take up less space, and store almost indefinitely. You can often find whole spices in the Asian specialty sections of many grocery stores, or in the bulk section. If you can only find pre-ground spices, try to buy the smallest amount possible to prevent them becoming stale.
Aloo gobi is one of my favourite dishes to make. This vegetarian dish of potatoes and cauliflower is perfect for a cold winter evening, hearty, and satisfying. If you are one of the many people who find cilantro unappealing, you can substitute flat leaf parsley, although it won’t have quite the same effect.
(Prep time: 15 minutes. Cook time: 50 minutes. Makes 4 servings)
- 1 tbsp fresh ginger, minced
- 1 tbsp fresh garlic, minced
- 1/2 tsp whole mustard seeds
- 1/2 tsp caraway seeds
- 1 tbsp canola oil
- 1 medium yellow onion, diced
- 1 tsp kosher salt
- 1 jalapeno pepper, seeds and membrane removed, diced
- 1 tbsp garam masala
- 2 medium russet potatoes, cut into 1″x2″chunks
- 2 tomatoes, chopped
- 1 tbsp turmeric powder
- 1 tbsp paprika
- 1 tsp cayenne pepper
- 1 tsp hot yellow curry powder
- 1 large head of cauliflower, cut into 2″ long spears
- 1 cup water
- 1 tbsp kosher salt
- 1 cup cilantro leaves and stems, roughly chopped
- 1 lemon, zest and juice
In a large frying pan or dutch oven, fry the ginger, garlic, mustard, and caraway seeds in the oil, over medium heat, until they become fragrant, and the mustard seeds pop. Add the onion, jalapeño pepper, and 1 tsp of salt. Continue to fry the ingredients until the onion begins to brown slightly.
Add the garam masala, and cook slightly in the oil to release the fragrance. Now add the potatoes and tomatoes, and continue cooking for 2-3 minutes. Mix in the rest of the spices, and then the cauliflower.
By now, the air in your kitchen should be perfumed by the amazing aromas wafting from your pan. Patience is required, before you dive into the pan and start rubbing the contents all over your body. Add the water and salt, and toss to make sure the cauliflower is nicely coated with the spices and onions. Now, you’re going to slap a lid on the pan, and proceed to simmer the mixture over medium heat, for 30 minutes. While you’re patiently waiting, feel free to prepare some basmati rice, or do some calisthenics, or investigate selling one of your organs on the black market. (Bookies really don’t have much patience when it comes to debts, yanno’?)
After the 30 minutes are up, add the cilantro, lemon zest and juice. Leave the lid off, and continue to simmer the mixture for another 10 minutes, until almost all the liquid is gone. At this point, taste your aloo gobi, and add a little more salt and maybe another 1/2 tsp of the garam masala if it needs it.
Cook the mixture for another 2 minutes, stirring constantly. Your aloo gobi should be moist, but not saucy. The potatoes should be nicely cooked, but not mushy. The flavours will match the smells and the colours of the dish; bright, warm, golden.
Serve your concoction with basmati rice, and/or naan. Feel free to garnish the dish with more chopped cilantro leaves, and maybe some toasted cashews. Indian food is usually eaten with your hands, which is messy, and fun, and allows you to shovel the goodness straight into your mouth without the inconvenience of a utensil!
So, rejoice in the new(old) you in the new year! A year of new horizons; a year of new challenges, and adventures! Look good, and feel good!
(By the way, anyone looking to buy a slightly used kidney?)