The 5th Day of Christmas: Vij's Vegetable Curry

Serves 6-8

If you love curry, but are intimidated by making it from scratch, then this recipe is for you.

Owned and operated by Meeru Dhalwala and Vikram Vij, the Vij’s and Rangoli restaurants have become Vancouver culinary landmarks, celebrated for serving some of the best Indian food available around the world. In addition to cooking up amazing food, Meeru and Vikram are long-time supporters of local agriculture. Wherever possible they partner with local farmers to source their menu ingredients, which results in unique twists on traditional Indian cuisine.

The two Vij’s cookbooks make Indian food accessible and approachable to the home cook. Today’s recipe is from the second book and I challenge you to order takeout faster than you can make this (you can’t, and even if you could it wouldn't be as good). The preparation required is simple, with no garlic, onion or ginger to chop – as is typical for many curries. The spice list is also minimal (coriander, cumin, cayenne pepper) and even most of those spices are listed as “optional”.  As a result, this dish can be made and on the table within 30 minutes.

As indicated in the book’s narrative, this recipe captures the very essence of determining what to do with a random assortment of seasonal ingredients. I’ve modified the additions/quantities slightly based on preference and what was available in my fridge. The celery root in this curry perfumes the coconut milk in the best way imaginable.

We enjoyed this with brown rice and some dry Riesling that was left in the fridge from weekend entertaining. The wine was the perfect accompaniment, cutting the richness of the coconut milk.

Ingredients

  • ¼ cup good quality cooking oil (I used virgin coconut oil, to complement the dish)
  • ½ tsp Asafoetida Powder*
  • 1 500 ml jar canned tomatoes and their juice (or about 4 fresh, chopped)
  • 2 tbsp toasted, ground cumin (optional)
  • 2 tbsp toasted, ground coriander (optional)
  • 1 tbsp cayenne pepper (or to taste)
  • 1 tbsp turmeric
  • 2-3 tsp sea salt
  • 1.5 cups water
  • 1 400 mL can quality coconut milk
  • 2 lb cauliflower (1 large), broken into large florets
  • 2 lb celery root (about 2 medium size) peeled and chopped in ¾” dice
  • 1 medium sweet potato, chopped in ¾ inch dice
  • 1 medium head broccoli, broken into florets (or rapini)
  • 1 small bunch Swiss chard, spinach, or kale (optional)
  • ½ cup cilantro, chopped (optional)

 *Asafoetida is a common ingredient in Indian cooking that lends a flavour similar to garlic and onion. Since neither are in this dish, it is a desirable addition. If you can’t find it you could chop a small onion and some garlic to add in place. Or omit it entirely if short on time. I should also note that, if you haven’t worked with it before, be warned asafoetida has a strong odor on its own. Don’t let this scare you – it will become less intense and quite flavourful once added to the dish.

Method

Heat oil over medium-high heat in a large, heavy-bottom pan or Dutch oven. Add asafoetida and allow to sizzle for 30 seconds. Stir in tomato and dried spices, through salt, and allow to simmer for another minute or two.

Reduce heat to medium, add water and celery root. Stir and cover for 5 minutes. Remove lid, stir in cauliflower and sweet potato. Recover and allow to cook for another 5-10 minutes.

Remove lid and stir in coconut milk and broccoli and cook for an additional 5 minutes.

Finally, remove lid and stir in the chard/spinach/kale and ¼ cup cilantro, if using.

Ladle into bowls on its own or with rice. Garnish with remaining cilantro.

As an added bonus, this dish will leave you with plenty of leftovers for workday lunches. It is a very time and cost effective meal.