RECIPE. Feb 9, 2010

Coconut Vegetable Curry

In the past, I usually played it safe. I stuck to what I knew well and what I knew I could do well. I tried not to experiment to often, out of fear of failure. I often pursued things I was good at because it was a guarantee success in the future. The problem with constant success is you know your cheating somehow. You know you are setting the odds in your favor and then cheering as though it were a big surprise when you win. Life doesn’t work that way. For any real success, you have to fail and fail big. Failure, disappointment and responsibility are three ingredients that guarantee not only future success but wisdom and growth. Big leaps are like jumping on a trampoline. The longer the fall, the higher you jump. You just have to make sure you have enough padding around you if you fall off.

What does this all have to do with cooking and food? A whole lot. To play it safe in the kitchen is guaranteed success but you will learn nothing. It is only by setting out to try a new recipe with odd spices and ingredients that you learn something new about the culinary world and yourself. You may learn you are a master curry maker. You may learn you are terrible at ravioli. No matter what the challenge, you will learn something about your limits and strengths.

This sort of self discovery is pivotal to growth. It hurts and it stings and sometimes it’s downright depressing when you fail. When you finally get that perfect pie crust after 20 attempts or dip into the ideal curry after several trips for more spices, then you celebrate like nobody’s business.

You jump up and down, squeal and scream, acting like a three year old boy who just caught his first slimy amphibian. You are triumphant, proud and accomplished. Through your trial and error you have learned how to make something. There are studies that show constant challenge, interspersed with success, is key to staying intellectually alert as you age. It is the routine and mindless habits that rot our cerebrums and eventually our youth.

So put down that recipe you have made a thousand times to perfection. Go to the grocery store, pick up the ingredients and make yourself a challenge.

I usually begin preparing the items about an hour before I cook. I put everything in bowls, in order of when it goes into the pot and have it ready to add to reduce the chaos in the kitchen.

Heat the oil in a large, heavy-bottomed sauce pan and saute’ the garlic, ginger and onions in it until the onions begin to show color. Add the mustard seeds, coriander, turmeric and cayenne and stir over medium heat for about 2 minutes. Add the carrots, snow peas, green onions, bell peppers and hot green chili (optional). Toss with spices for a few minutes.

Add the coconut, water, salt and sugar. Stir well, cover and simmer for about 20 minutes. Remove lid and continue simmering, stirring often, until liquid is reduced by over half. About another 10-20 minutes.

Stir in pimiento strips and yogurt, cook a few minutes more over high heat and taste. Correct the seasoning if necessary and serve hot with rice.

I also made Roti from Manjula’s Kitchen but would recommend making the Naan if you have the time. The Roti was a bit stiff and dense, as whole wheat usually is, and ended up taking just as much time as the Naan.