Creamy Curried Greens and Chickpeas

Do you know what palak paneer is?  It’s an Indian curry dish consisting primarily of spinach and cheese.  SO GOOD.  But man, I never felt good after having it.  On the rare occasion I happen to have the pleasure of eating at an actual Indian restaurant (which is basically never in Montana), I give in and have a little…but always gastrointestinally regret it later.

While browsing Susan Voisin’s site, some time ago I ran across her recipe for creamy curried kale and chickpeas.  Reading through it more, I realized that the title was actually code for “vegan palak paneer.”  I had my doubts, but after making it, I was blown away: it’s a fantastic vegan version!

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As you can see, I used spinach, not kale, in the photos above.  I’ve used all spinach before, all kale, or a combination of the two.  I tend to buy the huge containers of spinach from Costco and this recipe is a great way to get through it all before it spoils!  Whatever you choose to use for the greens, the flavor is still good and it’s always packed full of antioxidants and phytonutrients.

Enough talk – go make this recipe right away!

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Creamy Curried Kale and Chickpeas

Slightly adapted from Fat Free Vegan, serves 6 easily with another filling starch like brown rice

INGREDIENTS:

  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • 4 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 1 tablespoon ginger root, minced/grated (OR 1 teaspoon powdered ginger)
  • 1 teaspoon cumin seeds (OR 1 scant teaspoon of ground cumin)
  • 2 teaspoons garam masala
  • 1 teaspoon ground coriander
  • 1 teaspoon turmeric
  • 1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes
  • 8 cups chopped kale and/or spinach, packed
  • 1/2 cup low-sodium vegetable broth
  • 1 cup unsweetened soymilk or other non-dairy milk
  • 1/4 cup raw cashews
  • 2 tablespoons nutritional yeast, optional
  • 2 tablespoons tomato paste
  • 2 15-ounce cans chickpeas, drained
  • Salt to taste

DIRECTIONS:

Heat a large, non-stick skillet over medium-high heat.  (If cooking oil-free, place a small amount of water in the pan that doesn’t completely cover the bottom and keep a cup full of water nearby for adding more as needed.)  Add onion and cook until softened and beginning to brown, 4-5 minutes, adding small splashes of water if needed to prevent sticking.  Add the garlic, ginger, and cumin and cook for 1 minute.  Add the remaining spices and cook for another minute, stirring constantly to prevent burning.

Reduce heat to medium.  Stir in the kale and/or spinach and vegetable broth.  Cover and cook until the greens are bright and tender, about 5 minutes, stirring occasionally.

While the greens are cooking, put the following in the blender and puree until smooth: milk, cashews, nutritional yeast, and tomato paste.  When the greens are done cooking, add them to the blender and blend until smooth or until the texture is to your liking.

Transfer the blended mixture back to the skillet and bring to a simmer.  Check seasonings and add more to taste.  Stir in the drained chickpeas and continue simmering for about 10 minutes.  Add salt to taste and serve over rice.

Recipe Notes:

  • I keep grated ginger on hand in the freezer.  What used to happen is that I’d buy more ginger than needed, grate and use a small portion, then completely forget about the rest of it until it’s withered and completely unrecognizable.  (On top of that, I despise grating ginger!)  Here’s my tip for you: buy a huge piece of ginger, grate it all at once, and freeze them in long and skinny pieces rolled in wax paper and stored in a freezer bag.  Now whenever I need a piece, I break off the approximate amount needed, quickly get it thawed, and/or throw in straight into the pan and start using it.
  • I hardly use vegetable broth these days.  I usually throw in the liquid amount called for using water instead and then add the amount of mushroom seasoning or powdered vegetable broth needed for that amount of liquid.
  • If you don’t have a fancy blender (i.e. Vitamix or Blendtec), get in the practice of always soaking your cashews for at least 6 hours before using them – overnight is better.  If you’re short on time, the best I can recommend is soaking them in boiling hot water for a long as you’re able.  It may take a while for the cashews to get smooth, but as long as they’re soaked enough, they will get smooth even when trying to blend them in a food processor.
  • I have so many cans of tomato paste (I keep buying them because I keep thinking I’ll use them!) but I find I tend to only need a tablespoon or two at a time.  Based on this, I’ve started to buy tubes of tomato paste (I can easily find them at Walmart) since it’s a lot easier to keep in the fridge.
  • Once I made this way ahead of time, which means the chickpeas were lightly simmering and warming in the pan for a lot longer than 10 minutes.  Because of this increased cooking time, the beans became soft and much more reminiscent of paneer in regards to texture!  If you have the time and you like the texture of paneer, I’d recommend this route and allow it to simmer/stay warm for 30 minutes before eating.
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Easy Weekday Thai Curry

Being of Indonesian-Dutch descent, I grew up with our family going to asian restaurants a lot: Chinese, Thai, Vietnamese, the rare Indonesian spot.  My mom seemed to like Thai restaurants the best because, according to her, the spice palate used is most similar to an Indonesian one, at least when compared to other asian cuisines.

Thus said, since Indonesian food is so hard to come by in the States, I’ve learned to love Thai food.  Adore it.  I’d be willing to travel to Thailand just to eat street food with a small handful of Cipro in my back pocket.  (Just in case!)

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Before I finally found out what pad thai was really supposed to taste like, I enjoyed Thai curries the most.  I thought making the paste by hand from scratch was the key–though after talking to Thai friends, they always asked, “Why?  The store-bought kind is just as good–that’s what I use.”  Though even after buying paste, my curry attempts never seemed to have the right flavor: too spicy, not spicy enough, under flavored, I’d even add lemon grass and kaffir lime leaves to no avail, etc.  

Finally years and years later after my first curry trial, I decided to actually read the paste label for once.  It said something about adding brown sugar.

Huh.

Whaddaya know, I tried adding a little brown sugar, and…it finally tasted amazing.

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I don’t have a recipe for Thai curry, really.  My method is more like a bunch of guidelines.  We bought one of those huge containers of yellow curry paste recently.  I’m also a fan of red and green curry.  Well, all Thai curries.  If I have several pastes on hand, I pick whichever one that seems to call out to me that day.

Also, I’m rather untraditional about my curry ingredients.  I think it’s a great weekday dish because it helps me clean out the fridge.  Is that broccoli/cauliflower/[insert vegetable] I see back there?  Let’s throw it in!  or I only have a couple handfuls or spinach left, might as well use it up!

What is most important to me is getting the flavor right (ahem–brown sugar).  Oh, well, and as long as you don’t use a vegetable that really does not belong in curry like okra or beets.

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Weekday Curry

Recipe Notes:

  • I usually like to use potatoes, mushrooms, and/or tofu as the base ingredients.  In the curry in made last night, I just had potatoes.  As for the vegetables to be added later?  Use your imagination!
  • I’ve been steering away from sautéing with oil; rather, I pour a small glass or so of water in the pan, cover it, and bring it up to a vigorous boil to cook the base ingredients.  Keep your eye on the pan, though–add more water when you need it!
  • I tend to cook the base ingredients with water and a little curry paste to begin with.  When they’re done, I add in coconut milk and start to season the curry before adding the rest of the vegetables to be cooked.
  • For my usual huge batch of curry, I use a whole can of (not low-fat) coconut milk.  If I need more “broth”?  Then I just add more water instead of opening up another can of milk.
  • When I’m seasoning the curry, I have the following on hand: curry paste, salt (or mushroom seasoning, my usual salt replacement), and brown sugar.  I add curry paste until I feel like the spices are enough.  Then, the salt to taste.  Lastly, since I make a large batch of curry, I start with 1-2 spoons of brown sugar.  Taste the curry and add more if you need–you’ll know when it’s just right!  Sometimes I go back and forth and add more paste or salt as needed.  If the curry spice is too much, you can thin it out with more coconut milk or water.
  • I’m sure you could use something other than brown sugar as a sweetener.  Even regular sugar or agave nectar should work.
  • Make sure to add your ingredients to the pot according to how long it will take for them to cook, otherwise you’ll end up with some as mushy and others too firm.  Last night, for example, I had potatoes, green beans, bell peppers, onion, cabbage, and kale.  I cooked the potatoes with water and curry paste first, then added the green beans when the former was almost done.  The bell pepper and onion just needs to sit in the warmth for a few minutes, so those went in after the coconut milk and initial seasoning was done.  Since the cabbage and kale don’t take much heat to be cooked, I threw them in last and folded them in under low heat for a minute or two.
  • If you like garnishings, I’ve used green onions, cilantro, or even fried shallots/onions before.

IMG_1641When I think back upon my early curry attempts, I now can easily see my mistake.  Thai flavors always come in pairs or more: if a dish is salty, it is balanced out by something sweet; if it’s spicy, then sour is usually involved; when making pad Thai, all four flavors surprisingly come together.

Though in the case of making good curry, don’t forget to add the brown sugar.