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The Vegetarian

Spicing Up Dishes in a Hurry With Curry

April 20, 1989|DIANA SHAW | Shaw is a free-lance writer in Los Angeles.

As you know too well, one drawback to vegetarian cooking is the time it takes to prepare an appetizing, well-balanced meal.

Smart manufacturers, aware that many of us would rather not devote hours to turning complimentary proteins into delectable dishes, are coming out with packaged, prepared meatless meals, as well as mixes meant, for example, to turn tofu into chili in five minutes. It's a healthy trend, although the products leave you subject to the manufacturer's taste in seasonings, not to mention the high price they put on convenience.

Streamline the Work

You can streamline preparation of a nourishing meal by learning some basic flavor combinations that lend themselves to diverse main ingredients. Once you've made the following Basic Curry a few times, you'll find you can prepare it in less than 30 minutes. Vary the main ingredient according to season and whim, and alter the seasoning until you find the most pleasing combination.

Remember to buy spices in small quantities; the flavors tend to fade with age. Also, fresh ginger root keeps indefinitely in the freezer and needs no defrosting for use.

BASIC CURRY

3 cloves garlic

1 inch ginger root, peeled

1 tablespoon oil

Custom Curry Blend

1 cup peeled, chopped tomatoes, fresh or canned, or 2 tablespoons tomato paste blended with 1/4 cup water

1 or combination of: 1 cup cooked garbanzo beans, 1 cup cauliflower flowerets, 14 ounces nigiri tofu, cubed; 4 Japanese eggplant, sliced; 1 cup new potatoes, cubed; 1 cup button mushrooms whole, plus 4 fresh shiitake mushrooms sliced.

2 tablespoons lemon juice

Cooked basmati or other long grain rice

Plain yogurt

Minced cilantro

Shredded unsweetened coconut

Raisins

Unsalted toasted almonds

Grate garlic and ginger with cheese grater. Heat oil in medium skillet, add garlic and ginger and saute until just golden, taking care not to burn. Add Custom Curry Blend and stir quickly to mix.

Add tomatoes and stir to combine with spices. (If using tomatoes, cook gently over low heat until broken down. If using tomato paste, cook gently 5 minutes, adding as little water as necessary to prevent sticking.)

Add garbanzo beans, other main ingredient choice or combination. Stir, cover and cook over low heat until cooked, or, in case of beans or tofu, until heated through. Turn heat off, stir in lemon juice, cover and let stand 5 minutes.

Serve over rice, sprinkled with yogurt, cilantro, coconut, raisins and almonds. Makes 4 servings.

Note: Dish may be prepared without oil. Heat tomatoes or tomato paste and water in medium skillet. Add garlic and ginger and stir over low heat until tender. Add Custom Curry Blend and proceed as above.

Custom Curry Blend

1 tablespoon ground cumin

1 tablespoon ground coriander

2 teaspoons turmeric

2 teaspoons paprika

1/2 teaspoon ground allspice

1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon

Cayenne pepper

Combine cumin, coriander, turmeric, paprika, allspice and cinnamon. Season to taste with cayenne.

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