My sister has a shockingly beautiful friend named Purnima, which is already a pretty lucky thing to have, and when you consider that she is called Punty, and is the kind of cook whose meals make the people who have eaten them get misty in the recalling, and that she came over recently and gave me a cooking lesson–well, the luckiness factor just multiplies exponentially.
She was planning to teach me how to make a simple fish curry, and she did that. But even a simple fish curry has a lot of steps. I am reluctant to tell you how to do anything that has a lot of steps, generally. There are layers and layers of flavor in a good curry, and you do not get those in a snap, unless you buy a jar of what a friend of mine calls Curry In A Hurry, and then you have something, but not anything you would serve to Punty or that would make anyone terribly misty when they recalled it. This is not to say that some of these jiffy products are not tasty enough to fall back on when you must. Some of them are. But they are not what we are talking about.
Punty said she did not learn to cook as a child in India. She just ate. But when she moved to the U.S. and found herself to be a homesick and hungry student, she began to try to piece together what she had witnessed and what she was hungry for and to reconstruct it in her little kitchen. The rest is history. My nephew cannot speak of Punty’s food in public because the weeping compromises his manliness. “Her breakfast…” he says, and has to clear his throat. Punty told us a hilarious family story about an Indian gentleman declining an offer of more food by saying politely, “Oh, no, thank you. I am fully fed up.” Max has been fully fed up by Punty more times than he can count, though I think on nights when he can’t sleep he is happy to try.
One of the steps on the road to Punty’s fantastic curry was the one where she said, “does your family like it hot?” and I said (thinking of the innocent little children) probably not by her standards, and so she said, then we will add only a little pepper.
This is a visual on “only a little pepper,” Purnima-style:
Another one of the steps was this paste, which did not take very long to assemble at all, and which is the topic of our discussion today. “We will make a lot,” said Punty, “because it is very useful to have on hand.”
She was right about that.
Here is one thing you can do with this paste: when you melt butter for popcorn, drop a tablespoon of this in there and let it bubble a bit. You would never (or anyway, I would never, no matter what you suspect) make garlic and ginger paste as part of the process of producing a bowl of popcorn. If you happen to have a jar of it lurking in the condiment forest of your refrigerator, however, you have this kind of option before you. And then you also have this kind of popcorn. Salt it as liberally as you generally would, and maybe get a little nutritional yeast on there. Never look back.
Here is another, perhaps more useful thing you can do with it. Make a fast and fantastic and pretty memorable for a weekday curry for dinner. Curry in a hurry, Punty-style. With a pot of rice, you are set to jet.
a head of garlic, peeled
about 3″ of fresh ginger root, peeled (peel it with a teaspoon–it will change your life)
1 small hot pepper, seeded (a jalapeño, for example)
Coarsely chop the ginger and the pepper, using all proper and prudent precautions regarding not touching your eyes or other tender areas after touching the pepper. Put all three ingredients in the bowl of a food processor and pulse to combine, and then really mince the hell out of them. Maybe add a little water if you need it to get things moving. You want a smooth and uniform paste. Put it in a glass jar with a tight lid, and keep it in the fridge for up to two weeks, if you can manage to hang on to it for that long.
the curry in a hurry
about 3T of canola oil, ghee, butter, or coconut oil
about 2T of ginger-garlic paste
about a T of curry powder
about a pound of chicken breast, chopped, or tofu, cubed
about half a cup of half and half or coconut milk
about half a cup of chicken broth or water
salt to taste
a large handful of baby spinach
a large handful of chopped cilantro (or not, if you hate it)
Heat the oil in a heavy skillet over medium heat. Add the paste and stir it around for about five minutes, letting it golden up a little but not brown at all. Add the curry powder and stir a few times. Doesn’t that smell nice? Add the protein and sear it well on all sides. Now add the liquids and simmer a few minutes, scraping all the tasty stuck bits off the bottom as you go and letting the sauce thicken a bit. Throw in the green things and the salt, and taste.