Mixed Vegetable Kurma – A mild vegetable curry with coconut milk
Vegetable kurma is one of our most favorite curries with puri/roti. We used to ecstatic when amma (mom) made this!! This is her recipe and I absolutely cherish it Most of you may not have tasted this particular curry because this is not very popular at the restaurants in the US. This curry is from the southern part of India. That is where I hail from and this region has one of the healthiest vegetarian cuisines in the whole world.
We do use a lot of coconut because it is abundantly available in this area (don’t get me started on how much I miss fresh coconuts here!!). Every house, every backyard has at least a couple of trees and if not, they are very very inexpensive and form an integral part of this cuisine. It is (or rather used to be) a part of every meal. But because of the recent concerns about the cholesterol level in coconuts, people have started restricting it in their diet. But like everything, coconuts eaten in moderation are very good for you. Some common uses of the coconut are: freshly coconut flesh, coconut water, tender coconut, coconut milk and coconut oil. My grandpa’s place in Pondicherry has at least 10 trees in the backyard. I love coconut water and when we were visiting them during the summer vacations, my grandpa would call in a guy and he would pluck a huge (really huge!!) batch of tender coconuts for us. And once he was done plucking, he would shave off the top. So whenever we wanted to drink the coconut water, we just had to poke the top with a knife and enjoy!! And the best part is eating the tender coconut after you finish drinking the water. Yum!! I absolutely love it and can never get enough!! As soon as I finished drinking the water I would run to my grandpa, grandma or aunt and they would split the coconut for me and I absolutely relish it! And my grandma makes (she still does!!) coconut oil with the surplus coconuts every year. Its a long process, but its totally worth it! My mom gets her annual supply when we go to visit them during the summer vacations and use it all year long!
Okay, that was enough nostalgia for today !! Now all that came about because we use coconut milk in today’s recipe. It has a creamy, slightly sweet taste that makes this kurma so unique and delicious! My mom makes this with freshly grated coconuts, but I modified it because fresh coconut is not readily available to everyone. But coconut milk is!! These days all major supermarkets carry coconut milk in the ethnic aisles or you can find it in any Asian grocery store.
This is a very, very healthy curry, full of vegetables, has amazing flavors and a creamy gravy thanks to the coconut milk and cashew-almond paste, so that makes it vegan. It can be paired with Indian breads like roti, puri or naan and is equally good served with rice. You may use any vegetables you like but these are the vegetables that are most suited and are easily available everywhere. If you plan to use other vegetables, keep the cooking times in mind and add them to the curry accordingly. The flavors are simple but complex. I use whole spices, but if you don’t have these spices, go ahead and use some garam masala. Cooking is not an exact science, you have to just use your instincts and do what your nose and tongue tell you
Please don’t panic at the long ingredient list, these are very easily available and may already be in your pantry. And never give up because you don’t have one single ingredient, the taste may differ but it won’t be bad, I promise But let me point out one thing here, Fennel imparts a very distinct and significant flavor to this curry, so try to use it if you can. You can substitute all other spices with garam masala.
Cauliflower florets – 2 1/2 cups (half of a medium cauliflower)
Potatoes (boiled and diced small) – 2 medium
Carrots (diced small) – 2 large (about 1/2 cup)
French Beans (sliced into 1/4 inch pieces) – 3/4 cup
Green Peas (boiled if using frozen) – 1/2 cup
Tomato (chopped) – 1 large (or 2 medium)
Cilantro/Coriander leaves – 1/4 cup
Raw Cashew nuts – 5-6 no
Almonds – 5-6 no. (or just substitute with more cashews)
Red chilli powder/Cayenne – 1 tsp (optional)
Onion (chopped) – 1 large
Thick Coconut Milk – 1 cup
Turmeric powder – 1/2 tsp
Coriander powder – 1 Tbsp (or use whole coriander seeds with ingredients to be ground)
Salt – to taste
Oil – 3 Tbsp
Mustard seeds – 1 tsp
Curry leaves – a sprig (optional)
Cinnamon – 2 inches long (or 3/4 tsp ground cinnamon)
Cloves – 3-4 no.
Mace – 1 blade (totally optional)
Green Cardamom – 2 no.
Dried Bay Leaves – 2 no.
Star Anise – 1 flower
To be ground into a paste:
Fennel seeds – 1 tsp (or 3/4 tsp ground fennel)
Khus Khus (white poppy seeds) – 1 Tbsp
Ginger – 1 inch piece
Garlic – 7-8 cloves
Serrano chillies – 2-3 no. (I use 5-6)
Note: If you are not using coconut milk, add 1/2 cup of freshly grated/thawed frozen coconut to the ingredients mentioned for grinding and omit the coconut milk. This is how my mom makes this curry. I have substituted this with coconut milk. My mom also makes this curry with only beetroots, all the other masalas remain same. Use only beetroots and onions and make this curry. Trust me, you will start loving beetroots if you already don’t!!
- Prepare all the vegetables, peel, chop and dice everything. Boil the potatoes and the peas with a pinch of salt on the side. I like to do this in the microwave, makes life a lot easier!
- Soak the cashews and almonds in hot water for 15-20 minutes. Peel the soaked almonds. Grind the almonds and cashews into a smooth paste using some water, in a blender.
- Heat oil in a large, non stick pan or a heavy bottom pan on medium high heat. One the oil is slightly hot, add in the ingredients mentioned for tempering. Saute for 1 minute to 90 seconds, until the mustard seeds start to splutter and the spices become aromatic.
Note: If you are using garam masala instead of the whole spices, do not add it now. You should add it at the end along with the coconut milk. Also, at this point I like to fish out the large spices (cinnamon, cloves, star anise and cardamom) because they are not pleasant to bite. But you may leave them in the curry and remove them when you are eating. This is just a personal preference. There will be no problem with the flavors because the oil has already been perfumed by the spices.
- Grind the ingredients mentioned under “to be ground into a paste” into a smooth paste, adding water as required. Food processor may not be apt here, use a blender.
- Now add in the onions and a pinch of salt and saute until they are translucent. Then add in the tomatoes, turmeric powder, red chilli powder (if using), coriander powder and the ground paste and saute for 7-8 minutes, until you see the oil separating from the gravy. Stir from time to time or the mixture may stick to the bottom of the pan.
- Then add in the carrots and french beans, some salt and about 1/2 cup of water and cover the pan and cook for 6-7 minutes. Then add in the cauliflower florets and continue to cook until the vegetables are tender, you may add in some water as required but don’t add too much. This curry is not really about the gravy, the vegetables are the star here. Season with salt to taste at every step or the vegetables will taste bland.
- Once the vegetables are tender add in the boiled potatoes, peas, cashew-almond paste and coconut milk. Stir gently, check salt and add more if required. Reduce the heat to low (sim) and cook uncovered for 10-12 minutes. Add water to adjust the consistency as required. Check to see if the raw taste of cashew-almond paste has disappeared. Turn off the heat and finish with chopped cilantro leaves.
Note: This gravy tends to become thick as it sits because of the cashew-almond paste. So f you do not plan on serving immediately, add some water to the curry and heat it on stove top. Be sure to bring to a boil so the water is incorporated into the gravy.