feeding the dark

Evening comes on so quickly that you could almost believe the darkness is sentient. It races across the globe to get here in time for dinner. It’s the time of year when there’s tea for breakfast, tea in the afternoon, and tea in the evening. And it’s a good time to make a big vegetarian curry for a Sunday supper. 

 Not the most convenient thing in the world, but I love keeping those colorful tins front and center. Open it in a new tab for more detail.Heather asked a while ago about my spice collection, so I’m including a picture of the bottom two shelves. There’s another one above this one, with least-used things that I can only reach on tiptoes. The cabinet is about a foot deep and everything that’s not right in front of me is a pain to access. Someday I fully intend to design something that will organize these spices in a useful, easy-access, easy-inventory way, but right now, I can’t just pick up a seasoning on the fly—I figure out what I need from here in advance and set up a mise en place before I cook. Or I really should. 

I toasted cumin seeds this morning and made up one batch of ground cumin and a little cumin salt to clean out the grinder. I had it in my head to make chickpea and cauliflower curry for dinner, and I always supplement curry powder with extra cumin. This is one of the unfanciest meals in the world. It’s idiot simple and sloppy and I probably wouldn’t serve it to you if you visited unless you were vegan. At almost six I went downstairs and cut up the onions and the cauliflower, made sure my chickpeas were thawed, and opened the spice cabinet. 

I took almost every jar out of the cabinet looking for curry powder. I’m pretty sure there’s a Greek myth where some luckless fool has to pick up every single little spice jar looking for the one spice that is not actually in the spice cabinet. I knew there was a recipe for it in Bittman; turns out there are two, actually. I combined elements from them both, added celery seeds and cayenne, and voila. I got to leave out the cinnamon and clove that sometimes read as too sweet on my palate; the celery seed is something I miss when it’s not there.

It’s a very brown curry powder compared to what you’d find in an ordinary grocery store, but the cauliflower still turned brilliant yellow. As someone who didn’t eat Indian food until she moved out of her parents’ home, I felt unqualified and intimidated by the thought of blitzing my own curry mix, but it turned out better than I hoped it would. 
last-minute curry powder

(adapted from Fragrant Curry Powder and All-Purpose Curry Powder in How To Cook Everything)

1 teaspoon black peppercorns
3 tablespoons cumin seeds
4 tablespoons coriander seeds
1 teaspoon cardamom seeds (removed from the pod)
1 teaspoon fenugreek seeds
1 teaspoon celery seeds
1.5 tablespoons ground ginger
2 tablespoons ground turmeric
.5 to 1 to 2 teaspoons cayenne pepper, or to taste (optional)

Toast the peppercorns, cumin, coriander, cardamom, fenugreek, and celery seeds in a hot, dry pan until fragrant. Blitz them in a spice grinder. Combine them with the ginger, turmeric, and cayenne (if using). Store in a dark, dry place and use it quickly. Makes about half a cup.

I used about 1.5 tablespoons of the powder to season sliced onions while they softened in hot oil. I tossed the onions with half a head of cauliflower florets and browned them for a few minutes. Then: two cups of thawed cooked chickpeas and half a cup to a full cup of water. Turn the heat to high until boiling, reduce it to simmer and steam the cauliflower until everything’s cooked through. Throw in a few chopped tomatoes, finish with salt and a little cilantro if you like, and serve over rice. Serviceable and soul-warming, and just right for making friends with the early dark.