Midwest Curry Paste
Curry doesn't exactly scream "Midwest." And it's probably not what comes to mind when you think "seasonal ingredients." But surprisingly, the key ingredients of a good curry: turmeric, ginger, garlic, onion, cilantro, and lemongrass can all be grown right here in our Illinois soils, and they're in season now! Just in time for a cozy fall meal.
Check out these tips for Growing Ginger and Turmeric in Any Climate.
Check out these tips for Growing Fresh Lemongrass (also an excellent, natural mosquito repellent!)
Last week I was lucky enough to find whole, fresh turmeric root grown by a local farmer at the Old Capitol Farmers Market in Springfield. And when you stumble upon one of these rare (but not unheard of) beauties for sale in Illinois, you snatch it up and you make you curry paste.
Jon, of Jon & Emma's Place, holds up a gorgeous bundle of fresh turmeric roots grown on his farm.
Turmeric also produces beautiful, large leaves, that make for a stunning display as a centerpiece, or can be used to wrap and steam fish for a subtle turmeric flavor.
The beauty of curry paste is that it can easily be frozen and added to a pot of steaming coconut milk (or my favorite, a coconut-almond milk blend ) along with your favorite seasonal veggies and protein for an outrageously delicious stew that tastes like it's been simmering all day long, but really came together in minutes. One-hour of curry-paste making now will save you about five hours in the future and earn you all sorts of raves reviews for your kitchen mastery and meal making expertise. And that's the kind of life I'm all about.
MIDWEST CURRY PASTE
1 large sweet onion (or 4 large shallots if you're feeling fancy)
4 large heads of garlic (not individual cloves - FULL HEADS of garlic)
1 6-inch piece of fresh ginger
3-4 whole fresh turmeric roots (Or sub 2-3 Tbsp dried turmeric powder)
1½ tablespoons salt
1 - 2 Tbsp roasted ground coriander (these are the seeds from a cilantro plant)
1 - 2 Tbsp ground cumin
1/2 tsp ground black pepper
1 tsp ground cinnamon
5-20 whole dried Thai chili peppers** (they're very small and usually found in the spice section)
3 tablespoons lemongrass paste (This is crucial! Don't leave it out. I use Gourmet Garden which they sell at my regular grocery store, but I hope to grow my own next year.)
¼ cup packed cilantro leaves and stems
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
Prep the aromatics: Peel the onion - then drizzle with oil and wrap in foil. Wash ginger, cut into slices, and then wrap in foil. Pull the outer paper off the garlic. Cut the pointy tops off the heads of garlic so the cloves are partially exposed. Drizzle with oil, and wrap each head of garlic in foil. Scrub the turmeric, cut into small nobs, and then wrap all together in foil.
Bake the aromatics: Place all the foil packets on a baking sheet and roast for 30-45 minutes. The garlic heads should be golden brown and very fragrant and should be easy to squeeze out of the husk.
Soak the chilis: While the aromatics are roasting, pour boiling water over the chili peppers to rehydrate them. Let them soak for 15 minutes. Drain the water.
Make the paste: Squeeze the garlic bulbs out of the husk and put everything in a food processor or very strong blender (I love my Magic Bullet!). Pulse or puree until the yellow curry paste reaches your desired consistency. The recipe should make about 1½ - 2 cups of curry paste.
Use immediately or freeze in an ice cube tray and transfer to a plastic bag for use throughout the winter. One batch of curry needs about 1/3 cup of paste (or 3 ice cubes) so this recipe should make enough for about 4 batches of curry.
**The number of peppers will either make your curry paste mild or hot. 5 chilis = very mild 10 chilis = medium (I'm a big fan of this route!) 15 chilis = medium hot 20 chilis = HOT The measurements for the spices can be played with a little bit, which is why the cumin and coriander are written as 1-2 Tablespoons. I like to use MORE spice, but after your first batch you can play with the recipe and adjust according to your tastes.
Once you've got your curry paste ready to go, whip up this simple and flexible curry soup any night of the week. Chock full of flavor and veggies, this soup is not only good for you, but its the perfect cozy weeknight meal. Plus leftovers the next day for lunch are even better! Really, the miracle of a good curry needs to be shared with the world! I had leftovers from a roasted leg of lamb this past week that got new life in a sweet potato curry that I pulled together Sunday night and which I've been looking forward to for lunch every day this week. The possibilities and flavor combinations are endless though, so go crazy!
SIMPLE CURRY RECIPE
3-4 cups almond-coconut milk (Or 2 cups stock and 1 can of coconut milk)
Meat/Protein of choice- optional
2 cups vegetable of choice as your base (I like a combination of red peppers and tomatoes, or sweet potatoes)
1/3 cup (or about 3 cubes) curry paste
1 tsp salt (or to taste)
1/2 Tbsp honey
Seasonal veggies of choice, cleaned and chopped: squash, potatoes, sweet potatoes, eggplant, broccoli, cauliflower, etc. Go crazy!
For topping: Cilantro, Lime wedges, greek yogurt.
Dice the onion and sautee over medium low heat with a little bit of oil in a hot soup pot for about 5 minutes, or until translucent.
If you are adding meat, slice into small pieces and sautee with onions. Sear until browned on the outside and then remove from pan to add later.
Add your 2 cups of cubed vegetable base and cook for an additional 10 minutes until softened.
Add almond-coconut milk and curry paste, and allow the curry paste to melt into the soup. Then, using a blender stick, whir all ingredients together. Or transfer to a blender and blend until smooth and then return to the pot.
Season with salt and honey to taste.
Stir in additional veggies and pre-cooked meat (or tofu) and simmer until they are cooked through. Serve with chopped cilantro, a dollop of greek yogurt, and a squeeze of lime.