Sunday, December 16, 2012

Lighter Chickpea & Spinach Curry Kissed With Lime & Served With Perfectly Steamed Basmati Rice.

I love Indian food so much so that friends and family regularly give me Indian cookbooks as gifts. Shamelessly, I buy more cookbooks than I need, often with quirky titles like Lord Krishna's Cuisine: The Art of Indian Vegetarian Cooking. I fell in love with this cuisine after my first bite of spicy vindaloo more than 15 years ago. Around the same time, I heard cookbook author, Madhur Jaffrey, being interviewed on the radio. Her beautiful descriptions of the spices and methods involved in Indian cooking made me long to make it even more. The idea of cooking it at home became more vivid and accessible.

So, I started off on my culinary quest. Falling deep down the rabbit hole into this mysterious cuisine, I made all sorts of curries and rice pilafs. I toasted and ground my own spices. I bought foreign ingredients like black salt and hing. I studied the medicinal benefits of the various herbs and spices.

After 10 years of cooking Indian food, I found that making curries can be basic or complicated. Most of the time, I go for the simpler approach. They don't have to be made with an array of confusing ingredients. They don't have to be high in butterfat. You don't need a spice grinder. They can be fresh and easy. Think of curries as vegetarian chili and you'll get where I'm coming from. Some beans, vegetables and spices are the ingredients in most vegetarian curries. You don't even need lots of ghee (clarified butter) to make them creamy and flavorful. But you do need good, fresh curry powder, a few simple tips and my favorite secret ingredient.

As we approach January here in New England, the days are short and dark. Coconut infused curries and fluffy steamed basmati rice are on the menu. They make me think of sunny tropical places. Curries, crackling fires and good movies are the way we spend  most Saturday nights these days. Spicy dishes pair nicely with my cooling cucumber, lime and mint salad (recipe below).

Chickpea and Spinach Curry Recipe

Some Notes:

This curry is creamy, spicy and kissed with lime and a little coconut milk. There are many layers of flavors which create a cohesive dish. It's neither too tomato-ey or too watery. It's the best, light chickpea curry I've made so far. Believe me, I've made a lot! At one point my husband told me that he thought we were Indian by nationality because I prepared so much Indian food.

The recipe relies on a few key (secret) ingredients and tips to make it rich and creamy. Potato starch is used as a thickener. It gives it the texture that you're used to finding in curries with lots of ghee (clarified butter). It's also gluten free and tasteless. Chickpea flour mixed with cold water also works wonderfully. I use them both to thicken all kinds of vegan and vegetarian stews. I find them in my regular supermarket. Bob's Red Mill  is an online source. Bob's Red Mill has a gluten free version of the chickpea flour too.

My current favorite curry powder comes from Soluna Garden Farm. My advice is to try different curry powders and pick one you like. I don't like curry powders with a strong saffron or clove taste.

A little coconut milk is stirred in at the end lending its subtle, mellow sweetness and light tropical notes. The coconut milk gives the curry omega 3's which are very good for us. I like Thai Kitchen brand or Trader Joe's Extra Thick & Rich Coconut Cream. I use a few tablespoons in the entire batch of curry to add a wonderful richness and creamy texture.

Turmeric adds a pretty orange-yellow glow. It's also known to be a powerful disease inhibitor, an anti inflammatory and an anti oxidant. Many studies have said it helps to eliminate toxins from the body. Fenugreek has been used for centuries in India and China for medicinal purposes. When I think about the taste and color of curry powder, I always think of these two key spices. Fenugreek is also a good source for vitamin C, niacin and potassium. The turmeric and fenugreek are optional.

If you serve this dish with brown or basmati rice, you'll have a complete protein. It's high in fiber, satisfying and like most stews and it reheats well. Naturally gluten free too!

High in fiber, vitamins, minerals and anti-oxidants this recipe is  a good one to keep in your repertoire.

Serves 6 with rice and cucumber salad (recipes below)

You'll Need:
  • 1 large onion, quartered.
  • 1 jalapeno pepper, removing the seeds and veins will make it less spicy.  
  • 1 small one inch piece of fresh ginger, peeled  (optional)
  • 2 16 oz cans of chickpea,s rinsed and drained 
  • 1 generous cup of tomato sauce. I use Muir Glen Organic.
  • 1 10 oz package of frozen spinach, defrosted, squeezed and drained of excess water. It should not be too watery before going into the recipe.
  • 2-3 tablespoons of coconut milk. Try to take some of the coconut cream from the top of the can. 
  • 1-2 tablespoons of curry powder, depending on how spicy you like it.
  • 1/4 tablespoon of ground turmeric and a pinch of ground fenugreek, (optional), see notes.
  • Sea salt or kosher salt to taste 
  • Neutral tasting oil or coconut oil for cooking
  • 1 tablespoon of potato starch mixed with a tablespoon of cold water to give the curry more body and smooth, creamy texture or two tablespoons of chickpea flour(garbanzo bean flour) mixed with two tablespoons of cold water. (see notes) 
  • For Serving: lime wedges, basmati rice, chapati, roti, naan, cilantro, sliced almonds, chutney 

The Rundown:

Place onion, jalapeno and ginger (if using) in a food processor and whiz to combine to a paste.

Add the oil to a large fry pan or saute pan (I use my non-stick Scanpan for this). Cook the onion-pepper paste in the pan, with some salt, to take the raw edge off the onions. Drizzle more oil in the pan and the curry powder. Saute the curry powder until it's fragrant, being careful not to burn it. Add the chickpeas, tomato sauce, drizzle of honey, spinach, turmeric, fenugreek, salt and two cups of water. Bring to a boil. Adjust the salt. Simmer for about 15 minutes or more on very low heat. Cook the curry until the flavors have mellowed and melded. The longer it cooks, the mellower it will be. You might need to cover the pot if the liquid is evaporating too quickly.

At the end of cooking, stir in the coconut milk or coconut cream and the potato starch/cold water mixture or the chickpea flour/cold water mixture and simmer for just a minute or two longer. The more of these thickening mixtures you add, the thicker it will be. You can mash some of the chickpeas with the back of a spoon to thicken the sauce too. Serve with a squeeze of lime or any of the suggested choices. Enjoy!

Cucumber-Lime Salad Recipe:

Chop 6 small cucumbers. I like using small Persian cucumbers because they're seedless and their skin is smooth and soft. Put them in a bowl with sea salt, a pinch or two of dried spearmint and a drizzle of light olive oil and a couple of squeezes of lime juice. Toss and serve. Note: If using regular cucumbers, remove the seeds and skin before proceeding with the recipe.

Perfectly Steamed Basmati Rice Pilaf Recipe:

Some Notes: 

Oh how I love fluffy, fragrant basmati rice with all sorts of curries. The pair will always be happily married. I have several Indian grocery stores by my apartment, where I can find all kinds of brands of rice. I tend to go with the best my budget can afford. I like Tilda brand best.

I use a little organic coconut oil in this rice pilaf. There are surprising health benefits to coconut oil. Plus, it lends a subtle tropical coconut flavor to the rice which is pairs nicely with this curry. I buy it from Trader Joe's. It comes in solid form. I store it in my fridge. Some frozen peas are sprinkled into the rice for a festive presentation and a little sweetness. Some unsweetened coconut and fresh lime juice will produce a coconut-lime pilaf. Some toasted cumin seeds are good too.

You'll Need:
  • 1 cup of basmati rice
  • 1/ 1/2 cups of water
  • Coconut oil
  • frozen peas and/or toasted cumin seeds (optional)
  • a few squeezes of fresh lime juice and a sprinkle of shredded unsweetened coconut (optional)
The Rundown:
Rinse one cup (measured with a dry measuring cup) of basmati rice in several changes of warm water. I do this in a large bowl. Rub the rice between your fingers to release the starch. Strain the rice and set aside. Heat 1 1/2 cups of water (measured with a liquid measuring cup) in a pot with a tight fitting lid, add some salt and a small amount of coconut oil. Bring to the boil. Add the rinsed and strained rice, bring back to a boil, cover. Turn the heat down to the lowest possible setting. Simmer, covered, for 15- 20 minutes. Put the cooked rice in a large bowl, add a little more coconut oil and gently fold it into the rice. Fluff with a fork, adding some lime juice and shredded unsweetened coconut if using.  Garnish the rice with a few peas and/or some toasted cumin seeds.    

More Recipes From Jilly:

High Protein, Fluffy, Aromatic, Lentil and Rice Pilaf with Warm Spices and Caramelized Onions. Step by Step Method.

Refreshing, Lime-Kissed Persian Salad

Foolproof Coconut Milk Chocolate Mousse ~ Decadent & Delicious!


  1. Urban Rajah seeks to bring friends, family and lovers together through spiced food, specifically Indian;curry recipes. Check out curry blog

    1. Hi Mason Cooks, I'm sure you do bring many friends and family together around your curry recipes! Happy Cooking!

  2. hey thanks for sharing the lovely recipe...

    basmati rice

    1. You're very welcome! Hope you enjoy it. Thanks for leaving the kind comment!