February, Quite Contrary

Writing about a month that’s nearly over and full of contradictions isn’t easy. Try as I might, on this bonus leap year day, I can’t find the words to sum it all up in one neat little package. Back in December, I thought I was being so clever when I prepared a batch of my favorite hearty, warming dishes, creating ample blog fodder for the brutal winter to come. Now I have a stock pile of main meals that are just a bit too rich for most days- Thank you very much, fickle Mother Nature. Still, inconsistent to the very end, there’s talk of snow in today’s forecast again today, so I’m seizing the opportunity to trot out a genuine belly-warmer while I still can.

It was something mentioned in an interview, an offhand comment that I forgot about as soon as I said it. A dish that I often would whip up for myself for a quick dinner, something easy to eat, and admittedly, almost embarrassing to spill the details about. You know those meals that you love but would never serve to anyone else? That was this curry. Although it was undeniably inspired by Sri Lankan curry, featuring cashews soaked for hours to lend them a uniquely creamy yet toothsome texture, I figured that people of more standard food preferences may find that approach a bit unappealing. Naturally, this was the comment that most readers picked up on and asked about, clamoring for a recipe. So here I am, sharing my secret semi-junky, completely inauthentic comfort food curry that was never intended to be shared in the spotlight. Lesson learned: Be careful what culinary sins you casually divulge on the internet.

Thankfully, it’s far from beyond saving, and a few small adaptions can make it more agreeable to pickier customers. Don’t soak the cashews to keep them crunchier, or swap them out altogether for beans to create a lighter dish. All the rest is pretty standard, but it’s gotten me out of a dinner jam more times than I can recall. When I think of comfort food, this recipe is high on my list.

Sri Lankan-Inspired Cashew Curry

1 1/2 Cups Whole, Raw Cashews*, Optionally Soaked for 2 Hours
1 Tablespoon Olive or Coconut Oil
1 Large Yellow Onion, Diced
3 – 4 Cloves Garlic, Minced
1 Inch Fresh Ginger, Peeled and Minced
1/2 Cup Vegetable Stock or Water
2 – 3 Tablespoons Madras Curry Powder
1 Large Sweet Potato or 2 Medium, Peeled and Chopped
2 Medium Zucchinis, Halved Lengthwise and Chopped
1 14-Ounce Can Light Coconut Milk
1 Tablespoon Soy Sauce
2 Cups Frozen Peas
Salt and Black Pepper, to Taste

Cooked Rice, Quinoa, or Couscous to Serve (Optional)

*For a lower-fat (and lower-cost) alternative, substitute 2 – 3 cups cooked white kidney beans.

Rinse and thoroughly drain you cashews if soaking (or beans, if canned); Set aside.

In a large sauce pot over medium heat, warm the oil before adding in the diced onion. Stir occasionally to prevent sticking and burning, until soften and translucent; about 5 minutes. Add in the garlic and ginger, and continue to saute for 8 – 10 minutes longer, so that everything is very lightly caramelized and highly aromatic. De-glaze with the vegetable stock or water, being certain to scrape up any tasty brown bits that may be clinging to the bottom of the pot.

Follow that addition with the cashews or beans, curry powder (to taste- I find it’s very mild and go with 3 tablespoons, but if preparing this for children, they may prefer the lesser amount), sweet potatoes, zucchinis, coconut milk, and soy sauce. Stir well to incorporate, cover, and simmer for about 15 minutes, until the sweet potatoes are fork-tender. Turn off the heat, and incorporate the peas, straight out of the freezer. No need to thaw, as they’ll immediately come up to temperature once they hit the hot curry. Add salt and pepper to taste, and serve immediately! (It does reheat beautifully though- Just save in an air-tight container once fully cooled, and bring it back up to a simmer on the stove when you’re ready to eat. Add more water if necessary to thin out the stew.)

Serves 4 – 5 Solo; 6 – 7 with a Grain Accompaniment

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Fool-Proof

If ever there was one homemade holiday gift that I would recommend above the rest, it would undoubtedly be some form of nut brittle. Barring allergies, I have yet to meet a soul who didn’t enjoy the salty-sweet dichotomy of roasted nuts and crunchy homemade candy. Versatile to a fault, every year could bring a new variety of brittle, between the numerous choices of nuts and additional flavorful accompaniments. Best of all, it’s so simple, it’s one of the few edible treats I might venture to call “fool-proof.” Easy enough to be made in the microwave, for crying out loud, even the mostly kitchen incompetent should be able to master this rewarding recipe.

Classic but a bit played out, quiet flavors like plain old peanut brittle don’t quite light my fire anymore. Flaming Hot Peanut Brittle, though, sure adds a bit of excitement to a deceptively homely candy. Pistachio Chai Brittle remains one of my favorite variations, a beautiful hue of green that fits in so nicely with a Christmas color scheme.

This year, I’m pushing the boundaries between sweet and savory food just a little bit further. Curry strikes me as the perfect ingredient to add some interest into this simple candy, especially when paired with equally exotic coconut and cashews. A welcome change of pace that reminds me of tropical climates, far from the chilly winds that blow right outside, it’s a sweet little escape that is sure to disappear almost as quickly as it’s made.

Curried Cashew and Coconut Brittle

1 Cup Granulated Sugar
1/2 Cup Light Corn Syrup or Agave Nectar
1/4 Cup Water
1/4 Cup Non-Dairy Margarine
1 1/2 Cups Roasted or Toasted Cashew Pieces
1/2 Cup Unsweetened Coconut Flakes
1 1/4 Teaspoons Madras Curry Powder
1/2 Teaspoon Baking Soda
1/2 Teaspoon Salt
1/2 Teaspoon Vanilla Extract

In a large saucepan, combine sugar, corn syrup, and water. Cook over medium heat, stirring, until sugar dissolves. Bring to a boil; blend in butter. Swirl the pan ocassionally rather than stirring, to prevent the sugar from boiling over. Cook until the syrup hits 300 – 310 degrees (the hard crack stage) according to a candy thermometer.

Meanwhile, lay out a silpat on a baking sheet nearby. Combine the cashews, coconut, curry powder, baking soda, and salt in a medium bowl, and have at the ready.

Once the hot sugar syrup hits the proper temperature, immediately turn off the heat and very quickly stir in the dry ingredients. Add the vanilla extract last, and mix thoroughly to incorporate. Without pausing, scrape the hot candy out of the pan and onto your prepared baking sheet, pressing it out with a spatula to achieve a flat, thin shape as needed.

Let cool completely before breaking into pieces and either eating right away, or storing in an air-tight container at room temperature.

Makes About 1 Pound of Brittle

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