As someone who cooks and reads for pleasure, it’s not uncommon for a book to inspire a meal or recipe. Anything written by Jumpa Lahiri is no exception. I recently finished her collection of short stories, Unaccustomed Earth, and and enjoyed it just as much, if not more, than The Namesake and Interpreter of Maladies. Her writing is formulaic to a certain degree; her works often involve Bengali immigrants in the Cambridge area adjusting to life in America while dealing with loss or heartache. The stories are predictable, but the characterization and attention to detail is what draws me in every time. What I find incredible is her focus on food—what role it plays in the family dynamic as well as the long hours the women spend preparing and serving the food. The food shows a subtle transition to a Western lifestyle, a theme seen in all of her works, whether it’s the parents switching to coffee in the mornings, or the children ordering a pizza when the parents are out.
Without fail, reading one of Lahiri’s books sends me straight to the spice cabinet, ready to make a pot of daal or one of my favorite curries. Admittedly, this is not a curry that would impress any of the characters in her books—the curry powder is a pre-mixed commercial blend, and it’s ready in under an hour—but the complexity of flavors and textures makes this one of my favorite meals. I always toast my spices twice to heighten the flavor: once in a dry pan and then with the cauliflower and aromatics. Combined with the fragrant garlic, ginger, and serranos, the spices transform ordinary cauliflower, potatoes, chickpeas, tomatoes, and peas into a nutritious meal when served alongside some rice and whole-wheat naan.
Indian Vegetable Curry
14.5 oz. can diced tomatoes or 2 cups chopped fresh tomatoes
2 tablespoons sweet or mild curry powder
1 ½ teaspoons garam masala
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1 onion, finely diced
12 oz. red potatoes, cut into a ½ inch dice
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 serrano chili, minced (seeds and ribs removed if you’re sensitive to heat)
1 tablespoon grated fresh ginger
1 tablespoon tomato paste
½ head cauliflower (about 1 ½ lbs.), cored and cut into 1 inch florets
1, 15 oz. can chickpeas, drained and rinsed
1 teaspoon table salt
1 ¼ cups water
1 ½ cups green peas, fresh or frozen
- If using canned tomatoes, transfer them to the bowl of a food processor and pulse 5-6 times until finely chopped, then set aside. If using fresh tomatoes, this step is unnecessary.
- In a large, heavy bottomed pot, toast the curry powder and garam masala until fragrant over medium heat, about 1 minute. Transfer the spices to a small bowl and set aside. In the same pot heat the vegetable oil over medium heat and add the onion and potatoes. Sauté for 10-12 minutes, until the onions have softened and the edges of the potatoes are beginning to brown. Clear a space in the center of the pan and add the garlic, serrano, ginger and tomato paste and sauté for 30-60 seconds until fragrant. Add the toasted spices and stir to combine, letting them toast again until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add the cauliflower to the pot and toss thoroughly for 2-3 minutes, until the cauliflower is well coated with the spices and aromatics.
- Add the tomatoes, chickpeas, water, and salt, turn the heat to medium-high, and simmer briskly for 15-20 minutes, until the potatoes and cauliflower are tender. Add the peas, stir to combine, and let simmer until the peas are hot, 2-3 minutes. Transfer the curry to a serving bowl and serve immediately with basmati rice and naan.
Whole Wheat Naan
Makes 4 Naan
3/8 cup warm water (about 100F)
½ teaspoon active dry yeast
½ teaspoon sugar
½ tablespoon olive oil
½ teaspoon salt
1 cup whole wheat flour
Butter, for serving
- Combine the water, yeast, sugar, and olive oil in a large bowl or in the bowl of a standing mixer fitted with a dough hook. Let sit until the yeast has begun to foam, about 5 minutes. Mix to recombine.
- Add in the salt and flour, and slowly mix (low speed if using a standing mixer) until all the flour is incorporated. If using a mixer, increase the speed to medium and knead for 8 minutes, until the dough is smooth and glossy and springs back easily when pinched. If mixing by hand, turn the dough out onto a floured surface and knead for 8-10 minutes, until smooth, glossy and springy.
- Turn off the mixer, remove the dough from the dough hook and let it fall into the mixer bowl and cover the bowl with a dish towel. Let rise until almost doubled in size, 45-60 minutes.
- Once the dough has fully risen, turn it out onto a floured surface and divide it into 4 equal pieces. Taking one piece of dough at a time, roll it out to a circle 6-8 inches in diameter. Repeat with the remaining dough pieces.
To cook, heat a cast-iron skillet over medium high heat for 5 minutes until very hot. Gently lay one naan in the pan and brush it with water, then cover, letting it cook for 2 minutes until golden brown. Flip the naan, letting it cook covered for another 2 minutes until golden brown on the bottom. Spread a little butter on the naan, and cover the cooked naans to keep them warm and repeat with the remaining dough.