Category Archives: curry

Chana Masala (less than $0.50 per serving)

Everytime I go to the supermarket, I see MDH’s Chana Masala powder mix. Now, I’ve used it before…but not for its intended purpose. I see the happy picture on the box and I wonder if chickpeas can really be that glamorous? I bought the box and decided to take the plunge.

After watching the culinary superawesomeness of Ms. Manjula, in her Youtube contribution, I felt a teensy bit more knowledgeable about preparing the dish. Manjula cooks hers with ginger, and by golly, so will I! Her recipe calls for fresh chiles, which I did not have around.

Chole, a.k.a., Chana Masala

  • 1 lb dried chickpeas, which expands to at least 2lb after soaking overnight (about $.80 – I got a 2 kg bag for under $3.00);
  • 1 can of whole tomatoes, which I then chopped (guessing: about $1.50 – fresh is better, and that’s what Manjula did, but, the available tomatoes looked kinda waxy and were still superexpensive);
  • 1 extremely large onion, almost 1lb (guessing: $1.00 worth);
  • 1.5 cubic inches of ginger (guessing: $.50 worth);
  • 1/5 of the package of MDH chana masala powder – about 2 tablespoons (about $.35);
  • cooking oil (pennies);
  • salt* (I threw in three generous dashes of fish sauce); an
  • pressure cooker.

“Cavalier” is the word I would use to describe how I cooked this. I put the burner under the pressure cooker on medium high, and threw the MDH in when the oil was nearly smoking. Fortunately, I had chopped everything in advance, so in the onion, tomato and ginger went, surely preventing a small kitchen fire. And then the cooked chickpeas. Since I had undercooked the chickpeas the first time around, it took me a while to pressure everything together…probably about 25 minutes in aggregate – pressured it, for 15 minutes, checked it, and then pressured it some more.

You might see the burn marks on one of the chickpeas in the top picture. I would recommend just simmering it (in a regular pan) for 40 minutes like the package recommends – might need a little more water than just the canned tomatoes I used here. I like it just really chunky and with very firm chickpeas. Indira of Mahanandi makes a puree of some of the chickpeas to thicken it a bit. Maybe next time, I’ll try it that way. But I am definitely making this again. So good, and so easy!

Smells absolutely great when you are cooking it. Tastes even better the next day – very microwave-friendly. And is a fabulous lunch, even when cold. Likely makes at least 10 servings (yields almost 4 lbs) for less than $4.50 – less than $.45 per serving.

#8 in a series of my posts about recipes yielding meals for under $1.00 per serving:

  1. Madras Chicken Curry in the Tundra for less than $1.00: even better than it sounds;
  2. approximately Sailu’s adraki kebabs – less than $0.50 per serving;
  3. maximally lazy and frugal version of feijoada (under $0.25 per serving) // Year of the Boar post #2;
  4. antioxidant red cabbage and sweet potato curry – about $1.00 per serving;
  5. When the stars make you drool just like Pasta Fazool, that’s Amore…(about $.50 per serving); and
  6. Three Bean Salad: antidote to winter, super convenient and less than $1.00 per serving!

P.S. There is such a thing as Indian Chinese food, as in, Chinese food interpreted by Indian nationals. Me adding fish sauce, well, I just like it, but I suppose I can get away with calling it some kind of “fusion” technique!

P.P.S. I put the chole on a little plate because I adore being able to see the chickpeas themselves and because I liked the plate. In reality, I prefer eat more than 1.5 tablespoons of food at a time.

* If you leave out the fish sauce, of course, it will be vegan.


Junk food, and the salvation of Turkey Jook (a.k.a., rice porridge, xifan, congee, juk, okayu)

Question: is it wise to eat pizza, chocolate-covered rice crispy bars, spicy blue corn chips and other junk food exemplars for days and days on end…even if you feel like being lazy? Answer: No! My concern for all I’ve ingested leads me to attempt some salvation. Traditionally restorative, I am hoping that six thousand years of tradition in jook will come to my aid. To that end, I made a brown rice version for the first time. (I’m no stranger to white rice jook.)

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antioxidant red cabbage and sweet potato curry – about $1.00 per serving

All this time, I didn’t know the stuff I liked was good for me! Let’s see, red cabbage and sweet potatoes are world-champion antioxidant sources…and ginger may ward off the development of cancer cells. Whew!

Well, anyways, it has been a while since I had any red cabbage, so, I thought I’d take a whirl at it. And I made curry.

Red Cabbage and Sweet Potato Curry

  • 1 head of red cabbage($1.99);
  • 3 sweet potatoes (I used the Jersey variety – almost 3 lbs @1.99/lb = $5.73);
  • 2 medium yellow onions (about a pound – $1.53);
  • 1/2~3/4 lb of ground beef (I got extra lean – well, that was not exactly frugal! about $4.00!);
  • 1.5 cubic inches of peeled ginger (pennies);
  • 3 tablespoons of curry powder (pennies);
  • dashes of ngouc mam – fish sauce (pennies);
  • 1/2 cube of beef bouillion cube (about a quarter); and
  • vegetable oil (pennies).

Mince the ginger and chop the onions in a medium hot saute pan/skillet with the vegetable oil. Sweat the ginger and onions well. Then add the curry powder. Brown the beef. If you get something other than extra lean ground beef, you might want to brown it separately, then drain the fat, then add it back to the onion-ginger-curry mix.

At this point, I transferred the mixture into a larger saucepot – you might use a Dutch oven or other heavy enameled pot to limit dishwashing. Dissolve the beef boullion cube with the fish sauce in a little water – less than 1/4 cup. Incorporate that solution, mixing well with the onion-ginger-beef.

Slice the sweet potatoes. I went with 1/4″ discs, but if I had to do it over again, I’d do larger blocks. Biting into the potato then seeing the flash of gold surrounded by the purpling from the cabbage is very pretty. Mix the potatoes in. Slice the cabbage into 1/2 or 1″ strips. Add 1/2 of the cabbage in, after the temperature of the pot recovers from the potatoes. Add the second half of the cabbage when the potatoes are almost done. You will get a variety of textures.

Serve on brown rice. This dish is quite gingery. And, the potatoes, onions, and cabbage all conspire to form a mild sweetness that complements the savoriness of the fish sauce and bouillion. Enjoy!

P.S. I recommend eating this while listening to some Patsy Cline – preferably, “I Fall to Pieces.”

turkey curry from the pressure cooker…mmm-mmm!

Sometimes, a girl falls in love with her pressure cooker. And this was yet again one of those occasions. The turkey becomes perfect – melting in your mouth. Get about three pounds of turkey drumsticks. Wash the meat, and set it aside. Put your pressure cooker on medium high, and start chopping two yellow onions coarsely. Also chop two cups of cabbage coarsely. Saute the onion at the bottom of the pressure cooker, until they just begin to sweat. Add in the curry powder – two or three tablespoons, to taste. Stir quickly to toast the curry powder with the onions. Stir in the cabbage.

Push everything to the side and introduce the drumsticks. Put the onion mix over the drumsticks. Add in three tablespoons of nam pla. Lock the lid. I put the heat on medium, letting it linger for twenty minutes, then pressuring it for about five minutes. Let it stay for about forty minutes after turning off the heat. Well…it’s very nice. You’ll have to add salt while eating, but, I think that’s alright. The cabbage and the onion create a subtle sweetness that sets off the turkey nicely. The bones give off great deep flavor. Serve it with some steamed rice. Oh, there’s nothing better in the whole world than coming home to that!

ain’t your mama’s Toor Dal: recipe & notes

(repost b/c of accidental deletion; first posted on 1/31/07)

One of my friends cooked me his toor dal. I was concerned that he simply stuck in some veggies into the toor dal without saute-ing or blanching those first, causing some texture issues. He told me it wasn’t as good as his mom’s, and he was just a bachelor, but, I thought it was divine all the same.

Mine of course, can’t be half as good as his mama’s, but, still manages to be quite tasty. Unlike my friend’s dish, there’s a good dose of chicken (his version was vegan – sans ngouc mam and chicken). If you are going to substitute anything, do not chance it on the toor dal – these yellow peas have quite a distinct and sweetish flavor with a lovely, granular texture. They are worth the additional expense.


  • 1 dry cup of toor dal (also spelled “tur dal”) (soaked overnight, turning into several cups) {mine were SWAD brand, available from Cub Foods);
  • 1/2 lb yellow onion;
  • 10 chicken thighs;
  • 2 heaping tablespoons of sambar curry powder;
  • 2 tablespoons of ngouc mam;
  • 1 can of tomatoes, 16 oz; and
  • vegetable oil.

Drain the toor dal, and set aside. Heat a large skillet or wok to medium. Chop the yellow onion into pieces no smaller than 1/4″. Wash the chicken thighs in cold, salted water. Remove the skin, then slice each thigh into 2 or 3 pieces, lengthwise. By now, the skillet should be hot. Add 2 tablespoons of vegetable oil. In go the onions. Once the onions have sweated a little bit, add the sambar – don’t stop stirring!!! Otherwise, the curry will burn. When the onions are nice and golden, set aside the onion/curry sauté.

Clean the skillet. At this time, plug in your slow cooker – set it to the highest temperature – keep an eye on it to make sure it does not start burning anything. If it gets too hot, add a little water.

Heat the skillet again. When it’s hot enough, add 2 tablespoons of oil. Add several pieces of chicken at a time, to brown it. Watch constantly. Once all the pieces are browned, add the onion/curry sauté to the browned chicken – this may lower the pan temperature a little. Once the pan temperature is raised again, add the diced tomatoes. The pan should steam at this point! Again the pan temperature will drop. Once the mixture is boiling, add at least 2 tablespoons of ngouc mam. (alternatively, you could use one chicken or beef broth bouillon cube). Mix well. Slowly add the drained yellow peas, approx. ½ cup at a time. The temperature of your wok/pan/etc. will definitely drop. Constantly stir, and watch! The goal is to get the mixture boiling again. Once the mixture is simmering, transfer to slow cooker. Allow to cook for 2 ½ or 3 hours, or less – if you would like the toor dal to be grittier.

Serve over white rice, with lima beans and spinach to add color and flavor contrast.

P.S. Caveat to readers: let me say here that adding meat of any kind is not traditional – AT ALL. As in, the addition of meat to toor dal may be akin to listening to fingernails on the chalkboard for those raised eating it.


chicken curry command performance

I promised to help one of my friends with a surprise birthday party. Upon arrival, he beseeched me to prep the chicken curry. Oh dear, it was a study in desperation cooking. See, I made certain assumptions…Oh, but, don’t assume, don’t ever assume anything! I asked, um, do you have chicken stock? No? How about vegetable stock? No? Bouillion? He had the bachelor’s kitchen condition…oh, quite, quite developed. So, when I arrived, what could I find, that might turn into a feasible sauce?

  • chicken breasts;
  • tomato sauce;
  • broadly chopped and sauteed white onion;
  • tumeric;
  • curry powder;
  • cooking oil;
  • gas stove; and a
  • wok.

I put the spice powders on a hot wok. Because the volatile oils were asphixiating the other people in the kitchen, someone opened the kitchen window despite the sub-freezing (about 1F) weather. Onward ho! I put in the sauteed onions and tomato sauce. Frantic for time, I did not even brown the chicken (!!!), just desperately hoping for hungry diners who would accept a simple simmer for the chicken in the curry sauce. About thirty minutes later, the chicken was a fait accompli. Whew!

People said they liked it. And, at the end of the evening, there were only a few tablespoons of it left. So, this desperation dish served its purpose: feeding hungry birthday party goers. The tastiness of the sauce compensated for the chicken issues – but never mind that.

I write all of this only to emphasize that you must try making some kind of curry with tomato when the occasion strikes, because it truly is stupendous. The tomato adds acidity as well as sweetness, carrying all the spices so well. I can’t really explain it, you’ll just have to try it yourself.

Madras Chicken Curry in the Tundra for less than $1.00: even better than it sounds

In the tundra, what better dinner could you have than piping hot chicken curry? Yesterday, there was a sale at the supermarket – I got about 3lbs of chicken drumsticks for $2.62 (or, 88 cents/lb). Fabulous price. Yes, I know, I know, Costco sells chicken thighs for 89 cents per lb…living in the land of the severe tundra, one does not always feel motivated to drive into the non-metropolitan areas that Costco typically occupies. And yes, I was a bit concerned that this chicken was 1/2 off…but I have not yet taken ill, so, I am guessing that the chicken was fine. Of course, once I got it home, I had to make a curry from it.

Madras Chicken Curry in the Tundra (best if it’s below 30F outside!)

Here it is:

  • skillet;
  • slow cooker* (mine is 6qts);
  • chopsticks or fork;
  • spatula;
  • 3 lbs of chicken drumsticks (or thighs);
  • 2 cans of organic chickpeas (or, 30 oz of wet chickpeas you soaked yourself overnight – approx. 1lb of dry – the canned will increase the saltiness factor);
  • 3/4 lb of yellow onion, broadly chopped;
  • 5 tablespoons of Madras curry (I used Suraj brand, the house brand of Westfair Foods – a Canadian food retailer);
  • 1/4 cup of nguoc mam;
  • 1 Knorr beef bouillion cube;
  • **forgotten from original post**2 cubic inches of ginger;
  • 1 lb of bok choy stems (the white stalk only); and
  • 5 tablespoons of vegetable oil.


Turn on your slow cooker to HOT. Chop the onion. Set aside. Wash the chicken. Set aside. Heat the skillet to medium. Pour the curry powder onto the skillet. As it begins to toast, stir vigorously with wooden chopsticks or a metal fork. Do not allow to burn! You should really smell the oils escaping out of the curry powder now. Add 3 tablespoons of the vegetable oil. Keep stirring vigorously. Add the chopped onion. Saute aggressively.

Once you have browned the onion, set it aside. Wash the skillet. Set to medium high. Wait for the pan to heat up. Add the chicken. Brown each piece on one side, and flip in 7 min or so to the other side. FYI, I had to brown in batches, even though my skillet is large. After you have browned the chicken, set it into the slow cooker – which should be quite hot by now.

Leave the chicken bits stuck to the skillet.** Set the skillet to high. Peel, then grate the fresh ginger, and add it in. Vigorously fry it. Add 1/4 cup of water to the ngouc mam. Stir. Pour that into the skillet. Next, add the 1 beef boullion cube. Once it melts, add the curry/onion mixture back. Get everything in the skillet simmering hot. Pour into the slow cooker over the chicken. Open the cans of chickpeas. Drain them briefly. Pour into the slow cooker. Mix. Keep the slow cooker on HIGH. Leave for 2 hrs. Add the bok choy. Mix. Leave for another hour. Done!

Estimated total cost of ingredients: $7.53 and some change.

Here’s the math:

  1. $2.62 for the chicken;
  2. $1.98 for the canned organic chickpeas {obviously, cheaper if you soak your own};
  3. $1.61 for the yellow onion;
  4. $1.00 for the bok choy ($0.89 per lb);
  5. $0.22 for the beef bouillion {1/6 of$1.29 – you get six cubes in each packet};
  6. $0.10 for the ngouc mam {typically sells for $1.99 for a whole bottle);
  7. pennies for the fresh ginger;
  8. pennies for the curry (that was a gift, but, I’m guessing it costs no more than $10.00 for the whole bag);
  9. pennies for the vegetable oil; and
  10. pennies for the steamed rice that you will eat this with (I buy jasmine rice in a 25lb bag for under $12.00).

I’m not sure exactly how many servings this recipe will accomodate, but, there are about 5lbs of food here, without counting the rice that you’ll be eating with it! That’s a lot. Even if you ate 1/2 lb of this curry per meal, each such serving would be less than 80 cents. Not bad, for a premium meal. Oh, gosh, how to put it modestly…my chicken curry is legendary!!! Yours for less than a dollar per serving!!!

*I absolutely adore using my slow cooker to prep this with minimal fuss, mess, and attention span.

P.S. Tumeric, an ingredient in most curry powders, is a brain booster!

** These bits are fond – very important for proper sauce development! Take that, nonstick pans! (updated 05.12.08).

Update: June 8, 2008 – the photo at the top is from my more recent post about Madras Chicken Curry!

If you are coming to this post from My Open Wallet, you might be interested in my other posts about one dollar meals.