Normally, New Year’s Resolutions elicit a HUGE eyeroll from yours truly. It’s all the big talkin’ and grandiose proclamations that turn me off, I guess. That, and all the commercials aimed at our Guilt Centers.
Turn on the TV — Jennifer Hudson is singing to herself about being hungry, Janet Jackson is whispering about how great it is to eat an overpriced Lean Cuisine, and Michael Phelps has put down his bong long enough to peddle Subway sandwiches.
But despite all of my Resolutionary Disdain, I actually have one of my own this year — to prepare a vegetarian meal at least once a week.
Why? No huge, dramatic reason. Veggies are good for you and I’m getting bored in the kitchen. There you go.
WARNING: Before you continue reading, please understand that you’re not going to walk away from this with a great vegetarian recipe. Or, a recipe at all, for that matter. Instead, you’re going to witness the massive amounts of self-created melodramatic culinary mischief I experienced in the attempt to overcompensate for the lack of animal ingredients in my supper.
And so … let’s begin.
Josh Attempts a Vegetarian Korma
For me, the biggest challenge to preparing an all-vegetable meal is my hardwired culinary stereotype about what constitutes a proper dinner plate: One meat, one starch, one veggie. Stripped of my stereotypical plate plan, I’m helpless, like a cat with a scarf tied around his midsection. I just lie on the floor, unable to move, flopping my tail in frustration.
I turned to Facebook for inspiration, and many friends stepped up to help. One of the first suggestions was a Vegetable Korma, which is basically a vegetable curry. Matthew’s been on me for years to write about cooking Indian food, so I thought I’d start with that. I Googled “vegetable korma,” found this recipe, and proceeded to mischiefize it.
The recipe called for sautéing all the aromatics and veggies, adding broth, and them simmering the whole thing into submission. But my buddy Barefoot is constantly preaching about the virtues of roasting things for more flavor, so I got out a sheet pan.
I decided to roast half of my sweet potatoes and all of the mushrooms to add texture and condense the flavors. Mushrooms in particular go kinda meaty when roasted, so this prospect excited me. I drizzled the lot with olive oil, sprinkled with salt and pepper, then climbed on a stool to survey my wonderland of spices.
This is precisely why people shy away from making their own Indian food and just head to Silver Coin or Taj India — you could spend a fortune on spices. Here’s a trick — find an ethnic food store (Golden Temple, the Asian Market near the old Jazz Café, or even a Latin American grocery store) and buy whole spices in bulk. Then, get some mason jars, divvy up the goods, and you’re ready to cook pretty much anything. I realize this is fairly impractical for most folks, but it’s so much fun to look up on my shelf every day and see my Witch’s Brew-worthy collection of exotic goodies. The only thing missing is Eye of Newt, which I’m pretty sure I could find at the Red Pearl near Greensprings…
Anyway, this is going to be a long post, so you may want to grab some coffee and come back.
Okay — so my next step was to make a spice mixture for my oiled, waiting-for-roasting veggies (by now, they’re on their real pan). Garam Masala is a popular Indian spice mix made of a handful of toasted whole spices that are ground up. I used a pre-made garam mix, plus some curry powder, and roasted my veggies at 400 degrees for about 30 minutes.
Next, I got all my prep done. I rough-chopped onions, sweet potatoes, carrots, red bells, and zucchini, and set them aside.
Then I went on to finely dice my Indian Trinity — garlic, ginger, and more onion.
My Cooking Channel friend and Spice Goddess Bal Arneson says you don’t have to peel ginger — just chop it up with the skin on. So I do that, because it’s fun and kinda mischiefy.
After that, I raided my whole spices for some goodies to grind up and add to my trinity. Most of the time, I use an electric coffee grinder to bash up my spices, but looky what I found instead!
I love small things, and this has to be the world’s smallest mortar and pestle. It’s absolutely impractical, but SO MUCH FUN. I grabbed some whole cumin seeds, whole coriander, pepper flakes, onion seeds, and curry powder, and got to bashing! After getting my trinity sautéing in some canola oil, I added my spice mixture.
Keep your heat on medium low, so as to avoid burning the garlic. Next, I added the veggies, starting with the longest cookers (carrots and potatoes) and ending with the fastest cookers (peppers and onions). After a good sauté, I added some special broth, but not before adding a few cubes of pre-made mischief:
Any idea what these are? You know how you’re following a recipe, and it calls for one tablespoon of tomato paste or a quarter cup of coconut milk? Instead of trashing the extra, freeze it. I glopped out tablespoons of tomato paste onto a cookie sheet (with parchment paper), froze them, and voila, no waste! The coconut milk was a little more trouble — I had a plastic egg carton and a I poured it into the cups. Getting it out was a pain and very noisy, but still — no waste!
Anyway, I added these to my broth, along with a little more curry powder and a pinch of saffron (see above section about overcompensation for meat absence).
After that, I added ground cashews and greek yogurt to thicken it up. Here’s where the mischief starting compounding. Cashews were fine. No problem. But that greek yogurt — SONAFABITCH! I added it and it immediately separated, curdled, something — it completely nastified itself into my previously gorgeous, mischievously multistep Overcompensation Stew. Frantic Googling revealed the sad truth — yogurt just does this. DAMMMIT! Exhausted, I set my Cauldron of Disappointment to simmer and focused on the rice and the topping.
This got me excited again — I toasted coconut and chopped cashews together for a nice crunchy finish. This turned out to be quite delicious and temporarily distracted me from my bubbling Dish of Despair. I chopped some cilantro and tossed it into the pot — things were starting to look better — but it still wouldn’t get as thick as I wanted. By this time, I was OVER IT, so I pulled the culinary equivalent of a tourniquet — I made a slurry of cornstarch and water and added it to the fray. I added in my reserved, roasted mushrooms and sweet potatoes, and that was all I could do. At this point, I threw up my hands in surrender and began the plating process.
Saffron rice (made with actual saffron, see Overcompensating, paragraph 5), topped with Slurry Curry, topped with cilantro and green onion, sprinkled with a FABULOUS toasted cashew and coconut garnish.
I’m not gonna lie — it kinda looks like vomit. Hence the garnish. At least it looks like fancy vomit.
Fortunately, it tasted much better than that. Somehow, the Yogurt Separation Situation resolved itself (however I will NEVER use yogurt in this fashion again), and the flavors were really good. Was it as good as a curry dish with…say…chicken in it? I honestly think so. Taking the extra steps to roast and toast were time consuming, but worth it. So, after all that — SUCCESS! Vegetarian SUCCESS!
At least that’s what I thought. After dinner, I went into the kitchen to help David clean up. I started putting away spices, etc., and reached down to pick up the lid and put it back on the jar of my concentrated bouillon. Concentrated CHICKEN bouillon. Shit.
I’m coming clean here, but I’m still claiming this dish as my first vegetarian success. If any of you vegans out there want to challenge me on this, I’ll be glad to arm wrestle you for my honor. I eat meat the other six days a week, so I’m pretty sure I can take you. 😉
Here’s looking forward to more GENUINE vegetarian mischief!