Vegan Thai Curry from the New York Times

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Not too long ago the New York Times ran a recipe for a vegan thai curry. It is now a go to meal for us, costing less than five bucks for a huge pot of yumminess. The base of coconut milk and green curry paste is key, as is the lime and basil you’ll add at the end; the rest can be improvised with whatever you’ve got in the vegetable drawer or the freezer.

For the specifics, see the NYT’s recipe, but here’s my general approach:

First, I keep in the pantry some canned coconut milk, which I buy for about $1.49 a can, and I’ve got a lovely Bright Green Curry Paste that seems to last forever and is wicked hot. I only need one tablespoon of this stuff instead of the six that the NYT’s recipe calls for. I also try to pick up some sweet basil leaves to keep in the fridge (maybe I should get an indoor plant), and I make sure I’ve always got limes and tofu in the fridge (which also work with lots of other recipes of mine.) These are cheap. Other than that, you just need some other vegetables, maybe even just a red bell pepper.

Technique: Open a can of coconut milk and scoop the creamy top off into a big pot. Heat that and add about 1-2 tablespoons of the curry paste. Fry that for a bit, then add chopped sweet onion. Sauté some more. Sometimes I add a small spoon of coconut oil. Add anything else you want cooked with the onion, like maybe some mushrooms slices. Then pour in the remainder of the coconut milk, some water, glugs of soy sauce, and dump in some chopped up tofu and any vegetables you want: bell peppers, green beans, bamboo shoots, frozen Chinese stir fry vegetables. You really can’t go wrong. But not sweet peas — those are totally wrong. Cook for about 15-30 minutes. Then at the end pour in juice of about 1 or 2 limes. Turn off heat and add a handful of slivers of basil.  You can serve with brown rice if you want.

Here’s my technique for easy brown rice: Boil 1 cup of brown rice in 5 cups of water with about a half teaspoon of salt for 30 minutes. No lid necessary. It’s like cooking pasta. When rice is plump and chewy, pour it into a colander, shake, and put it in a bowl. Easy peazy.

Serve, savor, and sit happy that all that goodness set you back maybe five bucks at the most.

 

On An Empty Fridge

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My 85-year-old mother has hardly anything in her fridge: some milk and eggs, a couple of tomatoes (she won’t listen that tomatoes should never be refrigerated), a cucumber, some lettuce, a couple of lemons, and a bit of cheese. On the mostly-empty pantry shelves there’s rice, an onion, a box of cereal, some bananas and a few potatoes. In the cupboard there is coffee, very old garlic powder, dried oregano, salt, pepper, vinegar, and some olive oil. In the freezer are stashes of things she made some weeks ago, a little bundle of dill wrapped in a paper towel and secured in a plastic bag, some meat she got on special, and maybe some frozen spinach.

That’s it. Not counting spices and condiments, she’s got maybe 15 items of food to last for weeks.

Sad?

Oh my god no. That woman can cook. She’s like Jesus with half a loaf of bread and a fish. She spends hardly any money at all on food and can turn out wonders. I’m not going to tell you what cause that could blow my secret identity. But I will tell you that she grew up under Nazi occupation super hungry. But more importantly, she was steeped in an old world culture with its ancient food ways.

You don’t need a lot of different kinds of food to make a lot of amazingly delicious meals. You just need to know the “pattern languages” of food. For millennia peoples all over the world learned to make much with little, leaning on the knowledge past down over generations.

These did not include Cool Ranch Dorito chips for $3 a bag. I know it’s been said many times, many ways, but our way of eating sucks.

Learn from your mother, or maybe her mother or father or uncle, how to cook the old world way, how to turn oh so little into oh so much delicious bounty.

And then save a bundle of money.