One of my secret weapons in creating tasty, plant based recipes is using heaps of fresh, exotic spices. I was telling my husband the other day while we were cooking (and who is also a chef), I’m always surprised at how underutilized spices are in most people’s cooking. I’m not talking about onion powder, dried thyme and garlic – these are fine, but it seems as if people limit themselves to the ‘tried and true’ sometimes, and don’t dare to go outside their comfort zones with spices and herbs they have not heard of or previously tried. A stir fry of broccoli, onion and carrots can all of a sudden turn into a star dish by just throwing in some new flavors. I encourage you all to experiment with a spice you think sound exciting in your next meal!
My favorite outing in Manhattan is Kalustyan’s – the (not so little anymore) spice store in Murray Hill where they carry every spice, condiment and international food you can think of. I was first introduced to this store when I was a culinary student at the Institute for Culinary Education in New York, and had to make trips over there as a stage (a work-study student) to help fill our pantry for the chefs and classrooms. I always loved the smell of curries from the neighboring restaurants and walking through the streets always took me somewhere else and encouraged my creativity when cooking.
Curries are some of my favorite dishes to make, they are easy but can be so different in flavor, texture and heat that I feel I could spend a lifetime just experimenting with this particular dish. The other night I made a wonderful chickpea and sweet potato curry that I had to share with you all… Invest in the spices and produce listed, as they make all the difference. The best thing about spices and flavorful dishes such as this is that minimal amounts of fat are needed, so are not heavy to digest but rather give you energy and a burst of happiness with every bite!
CHICKPEA AND SWEET POTATO CURRY (vegan, gluten free)
- 1 tbsp coconut oil
- 3 tbsp Thai yellow curry paste (vegetarian)
- 2 sweet (Vidalia) onions, finely chopped
- 3 large stalks lemongrass, bashed with the back of a knife
- 6 cardamom pods
- 1 tbsp mustard seed
- 2 large sweet potatoes, peeled and cubed into 1 inch cubes
- 4 cups vegetable stock
- 1x 15 oz can reduced-fat coconut milk
- 1 large can chickpeas, drained and rinsed
- 2 limes
- large handful mint and cilantro leaves
- 1 cup brown basmati rice, cooked
- naan bread, to serve (optional)
- Heat the oil in a sauté pan, then gently fry the curry paste with the onions, lemongrass, cardamom and mustard seed for 2-3 mins until fragrant. Stir the sweet potatoes into the pan and coat in the paste, then pour in the stock and coconut milk. Bring everything to a simmer, add the chickpeas, then cook for about 10 mins until the sweet potatoes are tender. (The curry can now be cooled and frozen for up to 1 month).
- Squeeze the juice of one lime into the curry, then cut the other lime into wedges to serve alongside. Just before serving, scoop some rice into a serving bowl, pour over the curry and tear over mint and cilantro leaves, then bring to the table with the lime wedges and warm naan breads.