Friday, February 01, 2008
I grew up in a meat-eating household and one of our family's long-standing traditions was a mutton curry that my dad prepared each Sunday.
My dad, who was very handy around the kitchen unlike many men of his generation in India, would do most of the work, right from buying the meat in the morning to actually cooking it, as well as supervising everyone in the household who had some role to play in the actual preparation. My job was peeling a whole bulb of garlic and grating two kinds of coconut, fresh and dry. I hated both jobs: the juices from the garlic set my fingernails on fire, and I don't remember a time when I didn't grate my hand along with the coconut!
But I did love that curry. I can close my eyes and still see my dad standing over a two-burner stove in our Bombay kitchen, carefully roasting the spices and then grinding them to perfection in a little blender. He loved making that curry, just as much as we loved eating it.
After turning vegetarian, I sometimes would crave the spices in my dad's mutton curry. But neither Desi nor I are fans of meat substitutes. Enter the mushroom. This wonderful veggie is like a blank palate and a better-than-meat substitute because it absorbs the flavors of the myriad spices beautifully while retaining its robust texture.
To recreate my dad's curry without the central ingredient, mutton (goat's meat), I used two kinds of mushrooms, crimini and shiitake. My version, which I'm calling My Dad's "Not-Mutton" Mushroom Curry, doesn't take as long and I can skip all the steps that involve marinating and tenderizing the meat (ah, the many joys of being vegan!)
The dish is quite delicious, and I swear I have never missed the meat in it. I am certain even meat-eaters would love its robust flavors.
The curry is perfect either with brown or white rice or with any kind of Indian bread. A perfect accompaniment would be a simple avocado-tomato-onion salsa with some cilantro and a spritz of lemon juice.
I cannot wait to make this for my dad next time I see him!
My Dad's "Not-Mutton" Mushroom Curry
3 cups of assorted mushrooms, cleaned and sliced into chunky strips (I used crimini and shiitake, but you could use portabella or even button mushrooms)
2 medium potatoes, cubed and microwaved with some water for about 5 minutes until they are barely tender.
2 tbsp canola oil
1 tbsp coriander seeds
1 tsp cumin seeds
2 red chillies
5 pods of green cardamom
1 tbsp black peppercorns
1 onion, thinly sliced
1/2 cup shredded coconut (I use a packaged kind I buy from Whole Foods)
1-inch piece of ginger, thinly sliced
6 large garlic cloves, sliced
1/2 tsp turmeric
1 14-oz can of diced tomatoes or 2 medium tomatoes, diced
Heat 1/2 tbsp of the oil in a skillet. Add the coriander, cumin, chillies. cardamom, cloves and peppercorns and roast until they start changing color and become fragrant. Remove and reserve.
Heat another 1/2 tbsp of oil stir fry half the sliced onion, garlic and ginger until they are golden brown. Reserve.
Without adding any more oil, roast the coconut shreds for just a few seconds until they start turning golden-brown. Remove immediately. Be vigilant because coconut can burn easily.
Put the spices, onion, garlic, ginger and coconut in a blender and using 1/2 to 1 cup of water, grind to a smooth paste.
In the same skillet used for toasting the spices and onions, heat the remaining 1 tbsp of oil.
Add the remaining onion and cook until the onion starts turning golden-brown.
Add the diced tomatoes and turmeric. Cook until the tomatoes start to break down.
Add the sliced mushrooms and stir to coat with the spices. Add the potatoes.
Cover and let cook until the veggies turn quite tender.
Now add the ground spice-onion mixture. Stir thoroughly.
Cover and let it cook another 10 minutes for the flavors to meld together.
Garnish with some cilantro or, like I did, add about 1/2 cup watercress in the last few minutes of cooking.