Cold weather after months of heavy holiday fare (combined with the current state of the pandemic) invokes, in me, a deep sense of malaise or hibernation. This is a perfect time to break out some exotic herbs, spices and chilies to shake things up a bit! For years Indian cooking intimidated me. I thought creating a competent curry was somehow out of reach. Recently, I had an epiphany that a stew is a stew is a stew, with all due respect to stew of all kinds, of course. Armed with a shred of confidence, and the recognition that the beauty of East Asian ingredients is how creatively you can layer flavor upon flavor, these winter months have been quite colorful and inspiring. Note: A quick Google search can direct you to some amazing East Asian markets that carry a vast array of these ingredients.
4-6 fresh curry leaves2-4 dried whole red chilis (depending on your threshold for heat)1 teaspoon cumin seeds1 teaspoon mustard seeds2 tablespoons ghee or olive oil1 large onion chopped1 inch piece fresh ginger grated2 large garlic cloves finely mincedProtein of your choice: 1 pound ground beef, chicken, turkey or tofu1 small eggplant, cubed1 small red pepper1 teaspoon ground cumin1 teaspoon ground coriander½ teaspoon ground fenugreek½ teaspoon fenugreek leaves1 teaspoon curry powder1 teaspoon turmeric1 teaspoon garam masala½ teaspoon asafoetida½ teaspoon sugar1 large bunch chopped Swiss chard1 can crushed tomatoes2-3 cups of your choice vegetable, chicken or beef brothSplash of lime juice3-4 tablespoons chopped cilantroSalt and pepper
In a large pot, heat oil or ghee over medium heat. Add curry leaves, red chilies, cumin seeds and mustard seeds, and a bit of salt and pepper. Once seeds begin to pop slightly, add onion, ginger, and garlic. Sauté until onions are translucent. Be careful not to let ginger and garlic brown too quickly; keep things moving in the pan. Add protein, a bit more salt and pepper, and sauté until slightly brown. Now add eggplant and pepper, sauté a minute or two. Add crushed tomatoes and broth just until all ingredients are covered for heartier curry, or fill up on stock if you prefer. Bring to a boil, and now the fun part! Add as many or as few as you like of the spices listed in italics, and a bit of sugar. Stir and taste, experiment, explore! Reduce heat to a simmer about 15- 20 minutes. Finally, add chopped Swiss chard and simmer about 10-15 minutes. Turn off heat and let flavors meld for a bit, top with lime juice and cilantro.