Wine Advisor FoodLetter: Vegetable curry

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Vegetable curry

I'm an obligate omnivore, as a casual reading of these articles makes clear: I'm not loath to get myself on the outside of a sizzling steak or a piece of fried chicken or fish.

Nevertheless, I find vegetarian dishes intriguing, and actually enjoy meatless dishes as a regular player in our dinner rotation. I like it for health, I like it for ethical reasons, and I like it as a culinary challenge to the chef: "Can I fashion a vegetarian dish so fine that nobody misses the meat?"

Here's a simple guide: When it comes to hearty, flavorful dishes of real flavor interest in which no animals are harmed or even treated rudely, the Indians do it right.

Whether you go for fiery dishes or mellow but aromatic, curries and other Indian recipes can muster flavor excitement without any meat, poultry or fish. Better still, Indian vegetarian fare is far from a tune played on a single note. Drop in on your favorite Indian eatery, and chances are that you can plate up a half-dozen vegetarian Indian dishes and find no two alike.

Bring the memories home, and you'll find that it's relatively easy to create decent versions of Indian dishes in your own kitchen. It helps to have an Indian grocery around so you can stock up with authentic versions of the spice essentials, but no unusual tools or techniques are required, and using ground spices in place of toasting and grinding your own is a minor shortcut that I'm quite willing to take.

Today let's fashion a bowl of Aloo Gobhi Matar, a hearty, spicy vegetarian blend of cauliflower, potatoes and green peas with aromatic spices. The procedure may seem a little finicky because you have to prep and cook the veggies separately, but they all come together at the end with aromatic spices in an easy blend.


(Serves two)

2 cups (16 ounces or a scant half-kilo) cauliflower florets
1 medium russet potato, enough to make 1 cup diced
1/2 cup green peas, fresh shelled or frozen
1 teaspoon (5g) cumin seeds
1 teaspoon turmeric
1/2 teaspoon cayenne (or more to taste if you like it hot)
1/2 teaspoon good quality curry powder
2-3 tablespoons (30-45 ml) peanut oil
Sprig fresh cilantro for garnish (optional)


1. Cut the cauliflower into florets, and cut the florets into bite-size halves or quarters if they're large. Put them in a pot with lightly salted water to cover. Peel the potato and cut it into 1/2-inch dice. Put them in another pot with lightly salted water to cover. Measure out the peas.

2. Cover both pots, bring them to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer until the vegetables are just cooked through but not mushy, about 10 minutes for the potatoes and 15 minutes for the cauliflower. When the potatoes have about 5 minutes to go, put the peas into the same pot.

3. Drain the vegetables into a colander. Meanwhile, measure out the spices and mix them together in a small bowl.

4. Put the peanut oil into a saucepan or skillet large enough to hold all the vegetables, and heat it until it sizzles. Put in the mixed spices and let them cook for a minute or two.

5. Reduce heat to medium-low, add the drained vegetables, and toss gently until they're evenly coated with the reddish-gold spiced oil, adding a small amount of water if the mixture seems too dry. Check seasoning, adding a little salt if needed. Sprinkle with the optional fresh cilantro leaves, lightly chopped; and serve immediately with hot white rice.

MATCHING WINE: Curries can be a challenge for wine, particularly if they're fiery, but this recipe holds down the heat to a relatively gentle piquant warmth, and its aromatics went very nicely with a crisp, dry Austrian white, Hiedler 2005 Löss Kamptal Grüner Veltliner. I might also try it with a fruity, moderately acidic red wine, an Argentine Malbec or one of the relatively lightweight Australian Shirazes I've been reporting this month.

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