Return to Moosewood: Vegetable Curry

Efforts to claw my way out of the cooking rut are beginning to succeed, as my old friends, the Moosewood Collective, lent a very helpful hand earlier this week.

I became acquainted with Moosewood during my six-month vegetarian period, which lasted from the fall of 1987 to one day in the spring of 1988, when a Krystal oasis wafted its heady onion-burger scent across a concrete desert of strip malls and lured me back into the dark world of flesh eating, never to return.
Moosewood Restaurant, in Ithaca, NY, was an early vegetarian mecca. Their first two books, The Moosewood Cookbook and The Enchanted Broccoli Forest, introduced me to exotic new dishes such as Welsh rarebit and lentil soup. In 1990, they put out Sundays at Moosewood Restaurant, featuring menus focused on foods from a specific region (India, the Caribbean, the American South, New England, etc.)

But the timing was off for me. By the time I got Sundays at Moosewood as a present sometime in the early 1990s, I was living in Madison, WI, where I was quickly wearying of earnest, Birkenstock-clad, dredlock-sprouting vegans and vegetarians. I’d had enough of middle-class white grad students appropriating select tidbits of other cultures in the name of “diversity,” especially when they failed to realized that a hairstyle that looked wonderful on people with thick, curly hair was going to turn into a smelly, matted rat’s nest on them. I was over Moosewood. I didn’t need their sanitized versions of “ethnic” vegetarianism anymore.

So the book sat on my shelf virtually untouched until last week. But having grown up a bit, and becoming more patient with others (even white people with dredlocks) and myself–and being nearly desperate for some new vegetable recipes–I opened up Sundays at Moosewood again.

I was pleasantly surprised. Without meat, of course, many of the recipes aren’t going to resemble what you’d find in the region from which they came. (Vegetarian Brunswick stew? Please.)* Still, Sundays at Moosewood offers a good place to start sampling different cuisines and try out fresh flavors.

*I should note that Fred loves the vegetarian Brunswick stew at Whole Foods. He claims it’s wonderful if you add barbecued pork.

I turned to the section on India first. Each section of the book has a different author, and only two have names that suggest they grew up eating the foods they write about. Linda Dickinson, the author of the section on India, is one of them, and my reservations about the book came surging back when I read her introduction. Her first exposure to Indian food came in Cambridge, Massachusetts, when her roommate made an Indian dinner. I have a sneaking suspicion that she was an enthusiastic participant in the post-Beatles India fad of the 1960s and fear that she still favors flowing batik skirts with Tevas.

Still, Linda, bless her heart, has done a heck of a lot more than I ever will to understand Indian food. I did not actually use one of her recipes but cobbled together the one below from the techniques she suggested. Most important is to heat the spices in the butter first to bring out the flavors.

This dish is probably as “authentic” as vegetarian Brunswick stew–I didn’t even make my own spice mix. But until I decide to get my own Indian cookbook, the wildly complex food of India is probably beyond my ken. This will do for now. Thanks, Linda.

Vegetable Curry

2 tbsp. butter, melted
2 tbsp. muchi curry powder (available at Whole Foods)
1/2 c. minced onion
4 small to medium red potatoes, diced, cooked until just tender
3 carrots, minced
1 Mediterranean squash, diced (zucchini and chayote squash would work nicely as well)
3 small cloves garlic, minced
Salt and pepper to taste
Milk and sour cream (yogurt would be more appropriate for an Indian dish, but we didn’t have any)

Melt butter in large skillet over medium high heat. Add curry powder and heat until spice becomes aromatic, about 20 – 30 seconds. Add onions and saute for 1 – 2 minutes. Add garlic and stir. Add carrots and squash. Stir, cover, and saute about 5 minutes or until vegetables are tender. Stir in potatoes until well-coated. Salt and pepper to taste. Add milk and sour cream until dish is desired consistency. (I use roughly 1/4 c. milk and 3/4 c. sour cream.) Can serve over rice if desired.

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