This is, of course, a vegetable curry, but I'm loathe to use those two words in the title of this recipe because I don't want to put you off trying this most delicious and satisfying dish.
Not that I want my family to give up meat - the verrry thought, Gertrude ! - but I would like my teen sons to stop pulling faces when when I announce a Meatless Monday, or a present a veggie dish containing not a trace of flesh, cheese or egg. They do, at a push, enjoy a plate of oven-baked ratatouille or pasta-with-pesto, but only if it's smothered in grated Cheddar or Parmesan.
This mild vegetable curry finally broke the deadlock. Okay, I did add lots of interesting retro toppings (in my opinion, the best way to encourage kids and teens to try new things), but I was pleased to hear not a single cry of 'But I'm still hungry!'
Gently baking (rather than boiling) the vegetables in their gravy prevents the chunks from disintegrating, and at the end of the cooking time the veggies still taste like themselves. (Oh, all right, my gas bottle ran out and I was forced to sling the curry into the oven. But it worked, and I won't ever again simmer a veggie curry on the stove-top.)
I used a pack of pre-chopped soup vegetables (fine cubes of carrot, leek, onion, turnip, celery and potato) from my local supermarket for the base-gravy of this dish, and I suggest you save time by doing the same. If you can't find a fresh soup-pack, you'll need to chop them yourself. The only essential ingredients for the base gravy are onions (or leeks), celery, carrot and potatoes; the first three ingredients flavour the gravy, while the potato cubes thicken it as they disintegrate. As always, please use very fresh curry spices.
Oven-Baked Vegetables in a Spiced Coconut Gravy
For the gravy:
3 T (45 ml) vegetable oil
1 4-cm quill cinnamon
10 curry leaves, dried or fresh
2 t (10 ml) black mustard seeds
1½ t (7.5 ml) fenugreek seeds
2 onions, peeled and finely chopped
3 carrots, peeled and cut into 1-cm cubes
2 large potatoes, peeled and cut into 1-cm cubes
1 stick celery, finely sliced
two tins peeled, chopped tomatoes
3 cloves fresh garlic, peeled and sliced
a thumb-sized piece of fresh ginger, coarsely grated
one tin low-fat coconut cream
4 t (20 ml) fresh cumin powder
2 t (10 ml) fresh coriander powder
2 t (10 ml) mild curry powder
2 t (10 ml) turmeric
1 t (5 ml) chilli powder, to taste
salt and pepper
a little water
For the vegetables:
a large butternut, peeled, deseeded and cut into chunks
12 young potatoes, sliced in half, or in thirds if they are bigger than plums
2 big aubergines, cut into big chunks
4 red or yellow peppers [capsicums], or two of each each, sliced into big strips
freshly chopped coriander [cilantro] or flat-leaf parsley
plus, and optional: chopped, toasted cashew nuts; Mrs Ball's Chutney; mango atchar, 'hotters' made with chopped fresh tomato and onion; desiccated coconut; and so on.
Preheat the oven to 160ºC. Heat the oil in a large, oven-proof dish or pan. Add the cinnamon quill, curry leaves, fenugreek seeds and mustard seeds and fry, over a moderate heat, until the mustard seeds begin to pop and sputter. Tip in the chopped onions, carrots, potatoes and celery and fry, stirring gently, for 3-4 minutes, or until the vegetables are slightly softened, and taking on some golden colour. While the vegetables are cooking, put the tinned tomato, garlic and ginger into a liquidiser, or a food processor fitted with a metal blade. Whizz to a coarse purée. Tip the purée into the pan containing the vegetables and stir well. Turn down the heat and cook over a moderate heat, for 7-10 minutes, or until slightly reduced. Stir in the coconut milk, cumin, coriander, curry powder and chilli powder. Simmer for a further five minutes, or until you have a slightly thick, rich gravy. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
Tip the prepared vegetables into the gravy and stir well. The liquid should come three-quarters of the way up the sides of the vegetable chunks: if it doesn't, add a little water. Cover the dish with its lid, or with a tight layer of tin foil, and place in the oven. Bake at 160ºC for an hour (stirring once or twice, and adding more water if necessary), or until the vegetable chunks are just cooked through.
Serve piping hot with Basmati rice, yoghurt, chopped fresh coriander, and/or toppings of your choice