This time of year I turn to my gas stove, oven, pantry, and produce for answers to my many questions. The most important being: How do I stay mindful, while basking in the warm, delicious glow of this magical season? In reply, the vegetables scream "Roast me!" and the oven agrees, the starches chant "Recreate me!" and my stove sings "Stew Season is Upon Us." My mother's voice is in my head, telling me to make something from scratch. And I listen.
I have a red bell pepper, full of carotenoids, antioxidants, and beneficial vitamins. I have roasted tomatoes which were sliced in half, salted, oiled and slow roasted at 250 degrees for 4 hours, and are now begging to be utilized. I have long-grain jasmine basmati rice. I have canned coconut milk and homemade veggie stock. I simmered carrots, mushrooms, onion, leek tops, garlic, salt, black pepper, and fennel seed in a pot of water with a touch of white wine the other day for a few hours to make the stock. I have ginger. I have citrus. I have spices. I am going to make a curried stew. It will be exotic, it will be filling, it will be balancing, but most importantly, it will be made completely from scratch.
Why is cooking from scratch so important? By eliminating over-processed products from the center aisle of the grocery store, I know exactly what is going into the meal I am about to prepare. I don't have to worry about the handful of barely pronounceable ingredients that exist in the pre-made curry paste from a jar when I can make my own curry paste from fresh, whole, and simple ingredients. I also can take pride in the finished product more fully, enjoy my meal more heartily, and bring the conscious practice of yoga off the mat and into my kitchen.
Homemade Red Curry Paste and Red Curry Stew with Jasmine Rice
Approximate Time: 1 hour
Curry Paste Ingredients:
1-2 Roasted Red Bell Peppers 1 (whole) Roasted Tomato 5 Cloves Roasted Garlic 1 Small Hand of Fresh Ginger Root 1 Whole Lime (Zest and Juice) ½ Lemon (Zest and Juice) Salt Cayenne Pepper Black Peppercorn Cumin Cinnamon Turmeric Curry Powder Ground Cardamom Coconut Oil
Curry Paste Preparation: Gently rub oil onto a whole red bell pepper. Place the pepper in the pan, place the pan in the oven and broil on high for 20 minutes, flipping it over with the tongs halfway through. Once the pepper is evenly blistered and slightly charred, remove from oven. Transfer the whole red bell pepper into the bowl and cover it with a lid/aluminum foil.
Reset the oven to 400 degrees. Ball the cloves of garlic up in some aluminum foil (do not remove them from their papery casing) and let them roast in the oven for approximately 20 minutes. While they are roasting, peel your ginger and begin to chop it into medallion-like pieces. Zest both your lemon and lime, and then juice them, making sure to discard the seeds. Remove the garlic from the oven and open up the foil to let them cool on cutting board for a few minutes.
By this time, the bell pepper should be ready to be peeled. Gently remove it from the bowl and place on the cutting board. Gently peel and discard the skin with either the knife or your fingers. Once the skin is removed puncture the pepper with the point of your knife at the very top and cut out the stem by carving around it through the flesh of the pepper with your knife. You will be able to remove the stem along with the majority of the seeds and membrane in one fell swoop. Once the stem has been removed, transition the pepper back to the bowl, slice the pepper in half along its meridian line and the bowl will catch the juices that escape. Make sure the pepper has drained out thoroughly before moving back to your cutting board and removing remaining seeds and membrane.
Peel away the papery casings of the garlic. Put all prepared ingredients, along with the roasted tomato (both halves), two pinches of salt, and a tablespoon of coconut oil into your blender and pulse until everything is combined, but still a bit chunky. Taste with your tasting spoon and begin to pulse the spices in, a little at a time, until you have reached a heat and flavor profile that is just a bit over your threshold. This paste is meant to be powerful so that when you make your curry, the coconut milk will tone it all down and allow the flavors to blend. After you've decided that it's just a bit too spicy, tangy, and salty, add the lemon and lime juice. Pulse the mixture until it is smooth. Add a bit more coconut oil and pulse again. The mixture should be neither a solid nor a liquid, but a loose paste. Once you have incorporated and blended all of the ingredients to taste, then you can either start on your curry or save this paste in the refrigerator for up to a week.
Ingredients for Jasmine Rice:
.25 Cup Jasmine Rice/person .5 Cup of Vegetable Stock or Water/person
Ingredients for Curry:
1 can Coconut Milk/2 people or 1 cup of fresh Coconut milk/person .25 Cup Vegetable Stock/person .25 medium sized Yellow or White Onion/person, thickly sliced lengthwise 1 medium Sized Carrot/2 People, chopped into thin medallions 1 Red Potato/person, peeled and cubed .25 Zucchini/person, peeled and sliced thickly into half moons Curry Paste
Rice and Curry Preparation: Start with the rice. Combine your properly measured rice/liquid ratio into the medium-sized pot and set on medium heat, uncovered, until the liquid begins to boil--rapidly. Once it has reached a rapid boil, turn the heat down to low and cover your rice. Just leave it alone. Do not uncover it or touch it for about 10 minutes. When you do uncover it, just check to make sure all of the liquid has been absorbed, but do not touch it. If there is still liquid, put the lid back on the pot and let it go for a few more minutes. Once all of the liquid has been absorbed, and the rice looks fluffy, cover the pot and turn off your heat.
While you are in the middle of checking your rice, you should be heating your coconut milk. Heat the coconut milk at a low heat, stirring slowly. Wait for it to "smile" (lightly bubble) before adding the vegetable stock. Let it continue to sit on a low heat as you peel and chop your vegetables. As soon as the vegetables are peeled and chopped, turn your attention back to the coconut milk and stock. At this point, it should be releasing some steam, but not boiling. Have your curry paste at the ready. Empty about one tablespoon of paste into your blender or blending vessel, and begin to temper it with a few spoons of the coconut milk stock mixture on a low pulse. Once that has come together, add the contents of the blender to the pot. For the next two minutes, continue to add curry paste to the pot by the spoon, to taste. Once you have achieved your desired depth of flavor, begin to add your vegetables to the mix. When all of the vegetables are in the pot, put that lid on and let it sit on low heat for 20 minutes or so. The curry will be ready when all of the vegetables are soft enough to puncture with a fork, and once the curry paste has dissolved into the coconut milk, entirely. Serve over jasmine rice.
Why is this dish cleanse worthy?
The carotenoids that exist in the red bell pepper are directly related to the color, ripeness, and beneficial nutrients that exist in said pepper. Carotenoids are present in all orange, yellow and red fruits and veggies (like oranges, sweet potatoes, yellow peppers, and carrots) and red peppers just have slightly more than their colored counterparts.*
Why is this a cleanse worthy ingredient? Because it is in its prime state and, therefore, the digestive system can break down its properties with hardly any effort and fully absorb the vitamins C, A, E, and folate. At this ripened state, the carotenoid and vitamin content increases along with antioxidant levels, and the humble red bell pepper becomes more beneficial to my system than a bi-weekly hot yoga practice and a shelf full of vitamin supplements. The low glycemic index of jasmine rice means a slower digestion time, meaning your blood glucose levels will regulate at a slower and even pace, rather than the spike that something like white bread would cause. This slow rate of rising blood sugar levels is what prevents the bloated icky carb feeling while also promoting a longer feeling of satiety.* Slow foods like this help remind us to slow down in our day-to-day lives and bring our attention to what is fulfilling instead of focusing on a quick fix.
*Information provided by Marcelle Terry. Clinical Research Coordinator, Pennington Biomedical Research Center.