Indian masala

Despite the fact that I am an omnivore, I belong to a vegetarian dining co-op that meets weekly. There are nine of us, and we each prepare dinner once every nine weeks. Several people in the co-op eat meat as a regular part of their diet, while others are strict vegetarian — some for environmental reasons, others for ethical reasons (including a pro-hunting vegetarian: a story for another day). Those of us who eat meat are still happy to eat a vegetarian meal and we enjoy the chance to get together with our veggie friends and listen to their shocking tales of being taunted at their various places of employment for bringing “weird” lunches to work.

A few weeks ago, the person whose turn it was to cook had to work both her old full-time job and her new full-time job for a full week while transitioning from one to the other. “Um, do you want me to trade weeks with you?” I asked.

We have a new member in our co-op and I knew he was allergic to something, but I couldn’t remember what. “How about shirred eggs baked in a tomato sauce served over sliced, roasted red potatoes?” I asked my friend. “No,” she replied, “He’s allergic to eggs.” “Oh, okay, what if I bake goat cheese in tomato sauce?” “No,” she said, “he’s allergic to dairy. He’s allergic to tree nuts too. He can have peanuts, though.” I decided to make a chickpea curry.

This conversation took a place just a few hours before the appointed dinnertime, so I was in a big hurry. I didn’t have any particular recipe in mind and I tore through Whole Foods at the speed of light, tossing ingredients into my cart like I was on that show where people get a 60 second supermarket shopping spree. I got some blood oranges and Meyer lemons in the produce aisle (this was the weekend of The Big Freeze in citrus country and there were still plenty of citrus choices in the market). As I sped down the aisle where I got fire roasted organic canned tomatoes (Muir Glen makes them) I saw some dried mango for sale, so I dumped that into my cart as well.

My can’t-cook-this-week friend and I drove to Southie, where I cooked dinner in another member’s kitchen. It turns out that only four of us could be there that week, but I made enough dinner to feed six or eight people. Or so I thought!

The night was so cold and the food was so good that four of us ate the entire curry and the entire salad. (It must be said that one of the co-op members is a strapping young lad and has a prodigious appetite.) I decided not to make the kale dish since we were so full, but it’s very good too.

I asked our new member who is allergic to so many things if he had ever considered eating meat, and he said, “Oh, yes, I eat meat. Just not at veggie co-op!”

So here are three veggie recipes. I highly recommend listening to the Red Hot Chili Peppers while making the curry. It just seems right on a cold winter night.

Chickpea curry with tomato and mango

This recipe is fantastic with Meyer lemon juice added at the last moment. Meyer lemons have a nice lemon flavor but they are not as sour as regular lemons. They tend to be smaller than regular lemons and have a smoother rind compared. Warming the spices will make the house smell fantastic and make your dinner extra delicious.

This recipe is dedicated to my friend Lisa, who became a vegetarian when we were still in elementary school together.

Serve with basmati or brown rice.

I thought this would easily serve 8 people, but it depends on how hungry you are and how many strapping lads are in attendance.

1 tablespoon curry powder
1 teaspoon ground cumin
½ cup canola oil
2 cups chopped yellow onion (approximately 2 medium onions)
1 tablespoon minced ginger
2 cloves of garlic, chopped
2 big cans (28 oz cans) fire roasted organic tomatoes (it doesn’t matter if they are crushed or whole, as you will crush them in the cooking process)
½ cup dried mango slices, cut into strips
2 regular cans (about 15 oz each) chickpeas, rinsed and strained
a few small red hot chili peppers (I used ones called piri piri that you can buy in a jar)
salt to taste
lemon juice from a Meyer lemon or 1 tablespoon regular lemon juice
1 cup cilantro leaves, loosely packed (more is fine, but you need at least 1 cup)

  1. Warm the spices in a skillet over low heat until they become aromatic, then dump them onto a plate. (I say warm rather than toast because they really do not need to change color.) I warmed the spices in the pot I was going to use to make the curry. I just dumped the spices onto a plate once they were warmed through and wiped out the skillet with a paper towel.
  2. Add the oil and warm it over medium-high heat. Once the oil is pretty hot, add the chopped onions. Add the ginger and garlic. Cook until they are translucent. They do not need to brown.
  3. Add the two cans of tomatoes. If you are using whole tomatoes, use a spoon to break them down. Toss in the dried mango. Cook for five minutes.
  4. Add the chickpeas. Add the chili peppers if you want some heat.
  5. Cook the curry for about 20 minutes or until the chickpeas are slightly softened and completely warmed through. The dried mango should be completely hydrated and softened by now too. You may need to cook it for 30 minutes, but start checking at the 20 minute mark.
  6. Take the curry off the burner. Throw in the lemon juice and stir. Taste the curry. Now add a pinch of salt and taste again. Correct the seasoning with more salt if necessary.
  7. When you serve the curry, throw some cilantro on top of each portion. Ask your guests to stir it into the curry.

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Thai-type flavors salad
You can use the other half of your bunch of cilantro in this salad.

Salad
1 head Napa Cabbage, roughly chopped
1 Cucumber, peeled, cut in half lengthwise, and sliced into crescents
1 red bell pepper, cut into small triangles (cut the pepper into strips and then cut the strips on angles to make triangles)
1 blood orange, tangerine, or regular orange, peeled and cut into sections
a few leaves of basil (optional — this is just as good without it)
½ bunch cilantro, leaves stripped off the stem
unsalted roasted peanuts, roughly chopped

  1. Wash the chopped cabbage and shake it semi-dry or put it in a salad spinner. It doesn’t have to be completely dry for this salad.
  2. Add all the rest of the ingredients except for the peanuts.
  3. Dress the salad and toss it. If there’s too much dressing move the salad to another bowl, leaving the extra dressing in the bottom of the first bowl. (But save the extra dressing in the fridge for your next salad!)
  4. Now add the peanuts.

Salad dressing
1 tablespoon chopped ginger
2 cloves of garlic, chopped
juice from one blood orange or 1 regular orange
2 tablespoons apricot jam
2 tablespoons lime juice (or more to taste)
juice from a Meyer lemon or 1 tablespoon regular lemon juice
2 tablespoons Rice vinegar (option: rice vinegar with ponzu flavoring)
1/3 cup olive oil
a few tiny red hot chili peppers (I used piri piri from a jar)
pinch salt
1 or 2 teaspoons sugar to taste (optional)

Place all ingredients except sugar in a blender. Blend until uniform. If you use a blood orange, the dressing will be an odd shade of pink. Taste it and see if you need to add sugar to tame the tart nature of the dressing.

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Kale with balsamic vinegar, garlic, and raisins
(makes about 4 portions)

Kale is one of the only foods I know that’s much better overcooked than undercooked. Cook the bejesus out of it!

1 bunch kale, any type
three cloves garlic, very thinly sliced
½ cup olive oil
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
½ cup organic raisins
a bit of orange or lemon zest (optional)
½ cup tasted pine nuts or walnuts (optional)
salt
pepper
red pepper flakes or chopped red chili peppers

You want to use a high-sided pot or skillet for this dish. Kale cooks down to nothing but there’s a lot of it when you start off.

  1. Rinse the kale and dry it off a bit. Chop it into large pieces. If there are really thick, fibrous stems, cut them out of the leaves using a knife. Just cut in an inverted “V” shape around the thick part of the stem and pull the stem out from the rest of the leaf.
  2. Heat the olive oil over medium-high heat. There should be enough oil on the bottom of the pan to be able to let the sliced garlic move freely in the oil. If there isn’t enough oil, add more.
  3. Add the garlic and cook until it’s translucent. Don’t let it brown. This is why you’re using med-high heat, not high heat. Watch it like a hawk.
  4. Now add the kale. Stand back a few inches because if the kale is wet, the hot oil will sputter and fly into the air when you add it. Don’t make yourself crazy trying to dry the kale, though. Just stand back when you add it to the pan.
  5. Turn the heat to medium and cook, stirring all the while, until the kale is shriveled and substantially reduced in size. I like to cook it until it looks like disgusting, limp dishrags that sorely need washing. Then, take the pot off the burner.
  6. Add the balsamic vinegar. Taste and add more if you like. Add the citrus zest. Add the chili peppers and nuts. Season with salt and pepper. Serve.