Tag Archives: Curry

Accidental Vegetarian Week

Rob and I  find ourselves eating less meat these days. Not sure we could commit to full time vegetarianism, but we are finding that eating satisfying meatless meals is pretty easy and sacrifice free. When we do include meat, we splurge on high quality, local produce, which has a lower carbon footprint, supports local farmers and tastes better. Every two weeks or so we commit to a meatless menu for the coming week. This is what it looks like:

Monday, is the one night where neither of us has to be anywhere after supper so I usually choose a garlicky menu item. Also known as “Bottle-of-wine Monday”, tonight’s meal will be pasta — Spaghetti Aglio, Olio e Peperoncino or spaghetti with garlic, oil and chili flakes, and a nice Italian red.

The pasta is simple, but flavorful with a bite from the garlic and heat from the red chile. It’s rounded nicely with a grating of parmigiano reggiano, some good olives and a nice chianti.

Tuesday sees a rush at dinner hour. I have kickboxing and get home to three animals who need to be fed, so I usually choose something that I can prepare quickly or ahead of time. This week we are having Paneer and Tomato Curry. For this recipe I quarter 5 of the tomatoes and dice the other three. I add them all at the same time. I substitute garlic and ginger paste, available at any Indian food market, for the garlic and ginger. I find the garlic more mellow and does not repeat. Perfect for a chilly fall day, warm with Indian spices, rich with coconut milk and hearty with paneer, this dish satisfies. Rob stops at our local Indian take out on the way home for naan. You can serve this with basmati rice or grocery store naan, but tandoor-oven naan is really unbeatable. We often freeze the leftovers for another day. This recipe is filling, and satisfying. It’s excellent comfort food for a cold night and truth be told, it’s even better another day after some time in the fridge to let the flavours marry.

Wednesday I am preparing a Cauliflower and Aged White Cheddar Soup. It’s good to try at least one new recipe a week. This was cheesy, delicious. and quite thick. Thin with more broth if you like.

Thursday is quiet for me. No appointments, nowhere to be until 11 pm hockey. So it’s a day I like to cook something that takes a little time, iPod on, Josie at my feet, kitties sleeping on the stairs, something that makes the house smell good and blows raspberries at November weather. This week I’m making a creamy, cheesy, Mushroom Risotto. I use vegetable stock instead of chicken stock. The mushrooms and liquid from soaking the dried porcinis makes this dish quite beefy tasting. Like every good risotto, this is creamy, rich and satisfying. The mushrooms provide a meatiness all to themselves.

Friday this week I have chosen something light but elegant that we can open a bottle of wine with and curl up in front of the TV and fire. We are going out to dinner tomorrow at Steven Beckta’s new resto Gezellig, so we will indulge or likely over indulge then. Tonight we will have to be satisfied with Peach and Brie Quesadillas and a chilled bottle of Pinot Grigio. We used bottled peaches in juice and a white sweet onion instead of red.

I guarantee with a little planning around your schedule, you will be surprised that you can eat very well and not even realize you had no meat. That’s why we call it accidental vegetarian. We choose a recipe because it will be tasty specifically, not because it was vegetarian. That’s just a happy coincidence.


Food Truck Day

Today is food truck day! Our goal: to have all of our meals at Austin food trucks around the city. Food truck culture is well ensconced here and there are a large number of choices available to hungry meal seekers. Every type of food is represented, across enthnicities, styles, and trends, for breakfast, lunch and dinner and from the basic to the hautest of haute.

These aren’t your father’s chip wagons. In Austin and other cities, food trucks are a lower cost alternative for a chef with vision to open a food business and to get known, gain a following and to be self-sufficient. The overhead and start-up costs are considerably lower. The nature of the competition is different as well as access and ambiance are taken out of the equation. The focus is on the food.

Our first stop of the day was one of Austin’s original and very popular food truck businesses, Torchy’s Tacos. One of the deciding factors for choosing Torchy’s was that only a small fraction of the trucks are open earlier in the day. Most open around 11:30 for the lunch crowd.

Torchy’s had a large assortment of Tacos available. I chose breakfast variants, chorizo and egg and a migas taco (egg, onion, green pepper, cheese and crisp tortilla strips). Both came with mild red sauce and a green sauce with a green chile kick.

Maureen ordered a “Dirty Sanchez” (probably just so she could say she did) and a green chile pork carnitas taco. The Dirty Sanchez had egg, poblano pepper that was battered and deep fried and dressed with guacamole, escabeche carrots and cheese. The other was stuffed with lots of pork carnitas,  green chile, cilantro , raw onion and soft queso cheese, with a mild herb creamy sauce.

Often tacos ordered this way can be quite small, and the idea is to order a few. These were not that kind. They were larger and full to the top with their fillings. All were delicious and were a great start to the day.

Torchy's Tacos on Urbanspoon

Our second stop was 400 feet down the road.

Gourdough’s specializes in big-ass doughnuts with exotic flavours. Among the 20 or so varieties that all look spectacular. After some major consternation we finally settle on one each.  Ordinarily we might order more and have a taste of each, but these doughnuts were $4.50 each, signaling that they were substantial in size.

I originally asked for the “Flying Pig”, with Bacon and a maple syrup glaze. After all that work of whittling the offerings down to a single choice, I was told that they were out of bacon. So back to the menu board. My plan B choice was  “Porkey’s”, a doughnut with cream cheese and jalapeño jelly topped with Canadian bacon.

Maureen choose a “Sarah’s Joy”, a doughnut with coconut cream filling, frosted with chocolate and covered with large, coarse coconut flakes.  Doughnuts are fried to order so when they called our names, the just-topped donuts were warm and very fresh. And large. Very large — a little wider than a CD in diameter, with no hole.

First mine: The fresh yeasty dough, the cream cheese and the jalapeño jelly were perfect together, not needing the superfluous bacon as it didn’t add or take away from the experience. Although, “Superfluous Bacon” is a very good name for a rock band. Maureen’s, however, was hands-down too sweet. The coconut cream was quite sweet and chocolate icing killed any chance the doughnut had left to be enjoyed. A word to bakers: Chocolate icing obliterates all other flavours — it’s strong and sweet and is almost always paired with more delicate ingredients that can’t stand up to it. Even chocolate cake suffers for it.

All was not lost, however. These are big doughnuts, so I happily gave up half of mine.

Gourdough's on Urbanspoon

Mid-afternoon we headed to our choice for a late lunch, called Fat Cactus, a truck that specialized in combining a couple of our favourite things: they made tacos and  sandwiches using Navaho fry bread, a crispy, fluffy, rich flat bread (similar to a Beaver Tail for our Ottawa-based readers). But alas, they were sold out by the time we got there… That’s an important lesson to learn for food truck aficionados — get it while you can.

The good news was that we were across the street from one of the largest collections of food trucks in Austin along South Congress. We looked at the many offerings, ranging from Cajun/Creole, to cupcakes, sausages, shaved ice treats, assortments of food cooked and put in cones and the one we selected, Thai. Food trucks often have great names built on puns and ours was no exception. “Coat & Thai” served the full range of Thai and near-Thai specialties.

We ordered red curry, pineapple fried rice, spicy Thai chicken wings and crab rangoon. A few minutes later our number is up and we bring it back to one of the communal picnic tables in the area. Everything is hot, home-made and delicious.

The fried rice has a subtle heat and is full of plump shrimp, pineapple, cilantro and vegetables. The red curry is medium spicy with a cilantro backbeat and goes very well on rice. Our chicken wings have that sweet, spicy Thai chili sauce on them and are addictive. Lastly, the crab rangoon (crab and cream cheese in a dumpling and deep fried — not a Thai dish, but an American invention first served at Trader Vic’s as faux Polynesian food) was creamy, and cooked so it was still tender. Lovely.

Coat and Thai on Urbanspoon

We headed out at about 8PM for our dinner spot, G’raj Mahal, and Indian food truck that has stretched the boundary of what could still be called a food truck. It started out as a trailer and some tables, but while the trailer is still the kitchen, they’ve added some semi-permanent structures to provide shelter for the tables and now have a seating capacity of about 60 people across three areas, and recently added full table service with waitstaff. You can also BYOB and many tables were making a night out of good food, company and wine. It’s still outside, the kitchen is in a trailer and it had humble beginnings, so it’s a food truck.

The theme is Indian food and their specialty is Goan cuisine, known for its use of coconut milk, seafood and chilies. We order some naan bread, sag paneer (Indian cheese with pureed spinach in curried cream), dahl, tandoori shrimp, chicken malabar (sweet coconut in caramelized onion cream sauce), and Goan Coconut Curry (Shrimp with freshly grated coconut, simmered with chilies).

The food is made with the freshest ingredients and the chef shies away from the usual artificial colours and shortcuts used by many Indian restaurants. This is without a doubt, the best Indian food I have ever had. The spice level of the food that the chef designates as “spicy” is well within our comfort zone. The coconut dishes are terrific. Sweet, nutty, spicy and creamy all at once. The creamy and rich sag paneer was also a standout. As with all really good Indian food, it’s impossible to stop eating! It takes almost superhuman strength to resist that last piece of naan soaked in the coconut curry.

G'Raj Mahal on UrbanspoonThat’s it for Food Truck Day. The variety and quality are both outstanding. Great food cities like New York, San Francisco, Portland and Austin are seeing more and more food trucks emerge as a key force in the culinary evolution of the city. One will only hope that other cities (Ottawa: hint, hint!) will change their minds about the crippling regulations that they have stacked against these businesses and will ensure they are allowed to flourish. Cities can only be better for it.

Roast Chicken with Thai Spices

I was menu planning for the week ahead on Friday and was inspired to create this dish by one of the plump, juicy local chickens from Winfield farms that I had in my freezer. Roast chicken of any kind is comfort food on a blustery winter day. I love the warm, spicy flavours prevalent in Thai cuisine and felt they would compliment a chicken nicely. Rob suggested making a yellow curry sauce and so it came together.

Thai Spiced Roast Chicken with Yellow curry Sauce and Coconut-Mango-Coriander Jasmine Rice

Ingredients for Chicken:
1 3 1/2 to 4 pound chicken
1 tsp Thai Kitchen Green Curry Paste
2 limes
2 tsp fish sauce
1 tsp sesame oil
fresh ground pepper
A handful of coriander

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Rinse chicken and set on a rack in roasting pan. Whisk together green curry paste, juice of 1/2 a lime, fish sauce and sesame oil in a small bowl. Baste chicken with spice mixture. Stuff some fresh coriander under the skin and place a handful of coriander and three lime halves in the cavity of the bird. Roast for about an hour and a half.

Ingredients for Yellow Curry Sauce:
1 tsp Thai Kitchen Yellow Curry Paste
2 tbsp fish sauce
1 tbsp brown sugar
Juice of 1/2 a lime
Can of coconut milk

Heat all ingredients together in a sauce pan over medium low heat. Serve with chicken.

Ingredients for Coconut-Mango-Coriander Jasmine Rice:
1 cup Jasmine or other white rice
Can coconut water with pulp
1/2 cup diced mango (frozen is fine)
1/4 cup chopped coriander

Using favourite method, make rice with coconut water instead of of water. When rice is done toss with mango and coriander.

Click HERE for a printable version of this recipe.


Oh, the shame! …not.

Butter chicken is one of the most amazing dishes known to humanity: creamy, sweet, buttery. The token description on most Indian takeout menus – “chicken in a creamy tomato curry sauce” does not do it justice at all. Butter chicken needs a new PR campaign.

I made butter chicken from scratch once, using my mom’s Better Butter Chicken recipe. This is a “healthy” version of butter chicken, and when she made it, the dish was actually quite tasty. When I made it, it tasted like crap. I don’t know where I went wrong, but it certainly took me a lot of time and effort to get there, even if it resulted in screwing it up badly. Luckily, there is a very easy way to guarantee a perfect butter chicken meal with much less stress.

A walk down any “ethnic” aisle in the grocery store will find a shelf of pre-made sauces of various countries of origins: the aforementioned butter chicken, pad thai, korma and all kinds of curry sauces, such as red and yellow curry. Yes, my butter chicken comes from a jar – and it is delicious.

Of all the butter chicken sauces we’ve tried (between sticky sauce powerhouse VH, President’s Choice regular and Blue Menu as well as Metro’s store brand), VH wins hands down. It’s nicely sweet and rivals what you’d get at any half-decent Indian take-out place. President’s Choice korma sauce, which should be a creamy sauce with nuts and dried fruit, was a disappointment. Thai Kitchen sauces are always perfect, and you only need a spoonful or two of their pad Thai sauce to make this tangy noodle dish.

Grabbing a jar or two can give you more time to give that chicken a crusty sear, cook your shrimp to perfection, or plan the most complimentary side dish. Every jarred sauce I’ve come across includes easy-to-follow directions and suggestions such as adding broccoli to your butter chicken, or serving your red curry shrimp over pasta.

Few people have time to squeeze and strain tamarind fruits or dissolve palm sugar chunks in order to make pad thai from scratch. Spending all day simmering and stewing away should be reserved for special occasions, not average weekday meals when you’re craving something different.

There’s absolutely no shame in it.

Sharon’s Jamaican Curry

I have tried my hand many times at rich, sweet, coconut milk based Thai curries and spice laden Indian curries. Tonight I am trying my hand at Jamaican curry with a family recipe kindly supplied by Sharon Kameka, my daughter Heather’s boyfriend’s mother. They need to find a better term for that relationship. Heather raves about this recipe and her SO Matt makes it frequently. According to Wikipedia , “the word “curry” is analogous to “soup” or “stew” in that there is no particular ingredient that makes something “curry”, and that the word itself  “is an anglicised version of the Tamil word kari,  meaning ‘sauce,’ which is usually understood to mean vegetables/meat cooked with spices with or without a gravy”. Curries are pretty much known through out the globe and are defined by regional cultural traditions and ingredients. All I know is I love ’em all.

Traditionally, Jamaican curries often feature goat meat and are served with rice and peas, callaloo, roti or hard dough bread.

Jamaican Curried Beef Kameka
2-3 lbs cubed outside beef round roast or lean stewing beef
2 tbsp. Lalah’s curry powder
1 tsp. seasoning salt
1/2 tsp allspice
2 tbsp ketchup
1/2 tsp cumin powder
Combine the above to season meat

Olive oil, enough for sauteing vegetables and frying beef
2 tbsp. more of Lalah’s curry powder (Matt insists that this brand is integral)
1 scotch bonnet pepper, finely diced (adds a medium heat to this curry)
1 tbsp. minced ginger
1 onion
3 green onions, white and green parts or Jamaican escallions, chopped
2 cloves, garlic minced
1 tsp. creamed coconut or 1 tbsp. coconut cream (add more if you want a sweeter curry)

1. Heat 2 tbsps. olive oil in pot.  Add 2 tbsp curry powder, saute chopped onions and scallions, garlic, and scotch bonnet pepper, and ginger until tender and remove from pan. Reserve.
2. Add spiced beef and brown well.
3. Add enough water to cover, about 4 cups, bring to boil, scraping up browned bits, and add sauteed onion mixture back in with the creamed coconut.
4. Reduce heat to low, cover and simmer about 1 1/2 to 2 hours until beef is very tender.

Matt says this curry brand is essential.
Jamaican escallions and scotch bonnet peppers.


Adds a little sweetness.
This is how it’s SUPPOSED to look.


…and while the curry simmers…
…prepare the roti, just before serving.


We used ready-to-cook frozen roti.
With a little oil in the pan, it puffs up quickly.