Curry! The very word makes my salivary glands kick into overdrive, and has my taste buds longing for biryani (a rice-based dish with spices, vegetables and a protein), korma (a curry made with yogurt, cream, nut and seed pastes or coconut milk), muttar paneer (a cheese pressed and cut into squares mixed with peas in a slightly sweet and spicy sauce) and various other combinations of vegetables, legumes and spices that I’ve grown to crave through the years.
This love affair with Indian cuisine first started when my husband and I were working at the Adventist Clinic in Guam in 1968. The Robert Stahlnecker family, who had lived in India, had invited us to their home for a meal where we learned that Ruby was cooking curry. Those of you who have tried this culinary adventure (especially before the days of fancy food choppers and processors) know that it can be an all-day labor of love, dicing or mincing piles of garlic, ginger, onion, chilies and vegetables. All this culminates in an array of fantastic aromas and wonderful dishes to eat, as your eyes water, nose runs and mouth burns with each delicious morsel. It was our first introduction to this genre of food, and it was love at first bite!
From then on, finding the best Indian restaurant around town became the quest of nearly every journey we took, from Hong Kong and Kashmir to Berkeley, London and Nairobi. When we moved to Malawi, word got out that Dr. O loved Indian food, and soon patients were bringing us small, stackable, stainless-steel canisters filled with hot and spicy treats. One 80-plus year old Adventist Volunteer Service Corps worker, Evangeline Mattison, a long-time missionary to India, used to come from the Lake View Seminary and Training Center to Blantyre (a distance of about 100 miles) for shopping, then to our home to cook curry. “Every good curry must speak with authority,” she would say, as she added just “a tad more” hot chili pepper to the mixture, simmering with delicious promise.
While living in Hong Kong in the 1970s, I helped with vegetarian cooking presentations at the Stubbs Road Adventist Hospital. There, I met a lovely Hindu woman who wanted to learn to cook Western vegetarian food. This was my chance! Since Hong Kong is the mother of all bargaining places, I bartered with her to give me Indian cooking lessons while I shared the joys of a much less exciting fare with her, e.g. gluten, lentil loaf, FriChik casserole, etc. As it turned out, she lived just one stop down the Victoria Peak Tram from us—it’s often a small world in the best of ways.
To this day, one of our all-time favorites is from her kitchen: a simple potato curry that never fails to please. It is good whether hot or cold, or for sneaking a forkful anytime, but then, there are rarely leftovers hanging around! There is nothing better than sharing a great Indian meal with friends, old or new, who truly appreciate the many delicate flavors that this ethnic experience has to offer.
Sharon Ordelheide is a registered nurse married to Franklin Ordelheide, a dentist, and spent 13 years living overseas. Now retired, they still love to travel, most recently to do relief work at clinics in Madagascar and Kenya. They remain forever on the lookout for a great place to eat curry. Their most recent find: Chow Paty Vegetarian Restaurant at Diamond Plaza, in Nairobi, Kenya.
Photo credit:Franklin Ordelheide
This week’s recipes for Potato Curry and Raita come from Sharon Ordelheide in Oakdale, Calif. She writes, “Adjust ingredient amounts and seasonings to taste; like most curries, the flavors just get better. It’s a great filling for dosas or chili peppers, but we love it best when heaped into a warm naan (Indian bread) or pita, adding diced cucumbers, tomatoes, red onions and lettuce or sprouts, then topping with a generous portion of raita. Lining the bread with Vegenaise and hummus is a welcome addition, giving it a crossover Mediterranean taste.” See ingredient notes below.*
Serves: 6, generously
Total prep time: 30 min.
5 medium russet potatoes, peeled and diced
¼+ cup oil
1 tablespoon cumin seeds
1 tablespoon turmeric
1 tablespoon ground coriander
2 teaspoons garam masala
2 teaspoons salt
1 tablespoon fresh ginger, minced
1 tablespoon garlic, minced
½-1 hot chili pepper, minced (any hot one will do, but remove the seeds for a milder taste if preferred)
1 large onion, diced
Handful of chopped cilantro (or parsley), plus extra for garnishing
1. Boil potatoes until they can be easily pierced by a knife. Drain and cool.
2. While potatoes are cooking, prepare the remaining ingredients. In a large nonstick skillet, briefly sauté cumin seeds in medium-hot oil before adding ginger, garlic, spices, and lastly, onions. Be careful not to burn this mixture.
3. When onions are soft, add potatoes and mix all ingredients together, continuing to stir fry while adding salt and small amounts of oil if needed to keep the mixture from sticking. Some of the potatoes will break down, but that helps blend the flavors.
4. When the curry is completely heated through, gently stir in the chopped cilantro, reserving some for garnishing, and more salt if needed. Cover until ready to serve.
Total prep time: 20 min.
8 oz. plain yogurt, stirred until smooth
1 tablespoon organic coconut or canola oil
½ -1 tablespoon black mustard seeds
1 teaspoon ground coriander
½ tsp. garam masala
½ teaspoon salt
¼ English cucumber, unpeeled and finely diced
3 scallions, thinly sliced, some greens included
1 generous handful cherry tomatoes, quartered
¼ cup cilantro, chopped, and some reserved for garnish
1. In oil, heat mustard seeds until they pop. Remove from stove, and quickly add coriander and garam masala to fry slightly. Then stir the spice mixture into the yogurt and add the vegetables, salt and sugar.
2. Stir in the cilantro and chill until ready to use. Serve with any curry dish…especially if it is a very hot one!
*All spices and the naan can be found easily in any Indian market and at most well-stocked grocery stores. A dosa is an oversized crispy crepe, difficult to make at home, but never to be passed up when found on the menu at an Indian restaurant!