If you’re looking to make a meal that’s both fast to prepare and good for you, you might not immediately think of Indian cuisine. After all, Indian recipes are notorious for long lists of ingredients, which can be off-putting when you just want to throw something together. Furthermore, most people don’t keep the requisite arsenal of spices in their pantry, and pre-ground spice blends tend to get stale when they sit around for more than a few months. And so, Indian cooking gets relegated to the “special projects” category of cooking, set aside for weekends when playing around in the kitchen is the end-goal and time is of less concern.
This does not have to be the case. For my Indian-inspired home cooking, I use panch phoron, a spice blend that’s comprised of whole spices rather than ground ones. It keeps in the pantry for much longer than ground up spice blends — whole spices stay fresh for two or three years, rather than six months. Panch phoron doesn’t need to be ground before you use it, either — the whole seeds pop between your teeth as you eat the dish, adding dynamic elements of flavor and texture to what would otherwise be a basic vegetable stew. And so, you can avoid the problems of stale, ground spices, as well as long ingredient lists. Instead of assembling a pantry’s worth of seasonings, I use a spoonful or two of panch phoron for instant complex flavor. You can buy it at an Indian grocery store, or order it online.
If you can manage to prepare a stir-fry on a weeknight, a healthy Indian meal is within your reach. The method is very simple, and there’s a kind of kitchen ballet that is oddly fun to execute — First, you’ll put a pot of rice on to boil, then while it simmers you’ll get the vegetable dish going, and while *that* simmers, you’ll chop up some cucumbers and mix them with yogurt and salt to taste. Not a minute is wasted, and everything is ready at the same time, in about a half hour if you’re ace at chopping vegetables. Like magic, you’ll have fluffy rice, hot curry, and a cool, tangy yogurt sauce to tie everything together.
You can use a rice cooker to make things even easier. And if you’re feeling fancy (but really not that fancy!), jazz up the rice by adding a sprinkle of whole cumin seeds, a pat of butter, and a pinch of salt.
Oh, and by the way, this recipe isn’t authentic in any sense of the word. I’m a born-and-bred Northern Californian with Eastern European heritage, which makes me far from an authority on Indian cuisine! That being said, deliciousness crosses all borders. If you like healthy food inspired by the flavors of Indian and Bangladeshi cooking, go ahead and try this dish!
One last note before the recipe — this curry is extremely adaptable to whatever produce is in season. For the fall-to-winter version below, I used butternut squash and cabbage. You can also throw in potatoes, cauliflower, carrots, pumpkin, brussels sprouts, okra, kale or other greens, or even frozen vegetables if you’re not in a chopping mood.
Butternut Squash and Cabbage Curry with Cumin Rice and Yogurt Sauce
1 C. basmati rice
1 1/4 C. water
1 Tbsp. unsalted butter
1/2 tsp. cumin seeds
1/8 tsp. kosher salt
1. Combine all ingredients in a small (1-quart) saucepan over a medium flame. Bring to a boil, then turn heat down to low and cover. Let simmer for 20 minutes.
2. Turn off the heat, leaving pot covered on the stove for another 10 minutes. Fluff with a fork and serve.
Cucumber Yogurt Sauce (Raita)
3/4 C. plain lowfat yogurt
half of a medium-sized English cucumber, diced small
1 tsp. Garlic Gold oil
1/8 tsp. kosher salt
1. Combine ingredients in a small mixing bowl. Stir until evenly mixed.
Indian Vegetable Curry
2 Tbsp. olive oil
1.5 Tbsp. panch phoron
1/2 large yellow onion, diced
1/4 tsp. kosher salt
1 (14.5-ounce) can fire-roasted or regular diced tomatoes
1/4 C. water
About 4 C. of seasonal vegetables, cut into bite-sized pieces. For example:
1/2 of a small (1.5 lb.) butternut squash, peeled and cut into 1″ chunks
1/2 of a small (1.5 lb.) green cabbage, quartered and sliced thinly
1. Heat up a couple tablespoons of oil in a 10-inch cast-iron skillet over medium heat.
2. Add the panch phoron, simmering it for a couple minutes until the seeds begin to pop.
3. Add your diced onions to the skillet, along with the salt, and sautee for about 10 minutes. This step is important – you want to get some decent color on your onions, as they’ll add a key layer of caramelized flavor to the finished dish.
4. Once the onions are wilted and have begun to brown nicely, it’s time for the rest of the vegetables to go in the pan. I always add in a can of diced tomatoes at this point, along with a splash of water — this creates a sort of sauce for the other vegetables to simmer in. Fire-roasted tomatoes adds a nice layer of charred flavor, but the plain variety works great, too. Besides the tomatoes, I add whatever is in season and happens to be in my produce bin. Today, it was butternut squash and green cabbage.
5. Give the vegetables a quick stir, making sure everything is coated in tomatoes and spices. Cover the skillet, let it come up to a simmer, then turn down to low and leave it to simmer for about 20 minutes.