Grocery Ninja: Curry in a Hurry

The Grocery Ninja leaves no aisle unexplored, no jar unopened, no produce untasted. Creep along with her below, and read her past market missions here.

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part of a Serious ThanksgivingThere have been "countdown to Thanksgiving" notices everywhere for the past month, so it's safe to say anyone planning on hosting a gathering would have handled all the logistics by now—ordering the turkey, coordinating the sides, outsourcing the labor, etc. But what about the procrastinators among us? The ones who have left everything just this side of too late and are quickly realizing that a clean kitchen and peace of mind are what we would truly be thankful for?

It may be too late to order the organic, pasture-raised heirloom turkey, but it's not too late to dig out (beg, borrow, or steal) the biggest pot in your kitchen and get some curry going.

Curry is the number one dish that time-pressed people turn to to feed a crowd in Southeast Asia. All you need is freshly steamed rice, or what my folks call jiam tao loti ("pointy-headed bread"—basically a baguette) to sop up the saucy goodness. Of course, you're probably rolling your eyes at the screen right now—curry can take days to prepare. First you have to seek out the million and one spices, then you'll have to roast and grind them. But here's a secret: My American friends often think Asian dishes take "forever and a day" because we "do everything from scratch." The thing is, we're just as pressed for time as you are, and thankfully, there are some shortcuts.

In this particular case, us displaced Southeast Asians swear by Brahim's—a range of ready-to-cook curry sauces that you simply toss into a pot with meat and potatoes. Before you throw stuff at me for daring to suggest a mix, allow me to defend myself: It's got no MSG, preservatives, artificial coloring, or any ingredient I wouldn't eat on its own. In fact, it almost always has coconut milk as its first ingredient followed by spices (coriander, chili, turmeric, tamarind, lemongrass, etc.).

It's so good and reliable that my mom and aunts back home use it—even though they have the spices growing in their back yard. To put this in context, it's like you reaching for canned tomatoes during the height of summer even though you've got the juicy red orbs growing right on your doorstep—sacrilege to some, a testament to how good the convenience-version is to others.

There are as many renditions of curry as there are nations (and the subregions within), and I can only speak for the curries I grew up with. Singaporean-Malaysian curries seem to be a cross between Thai and Indian curries—we use a mishmash of spices found in both, coconut milk, and sometimes even belacan. It's not roux-based or sweet like Japanese curry and is definitely more stewlike than soupish.

It doesn't get much easier than this: Buy the mix, add chopped potatoes and meat (you can throw in onions and carrots, too, if you like your curry a little sweeter), simmer for 30 minutes, done. The meat in this case would be a pack of chopped turkey parts that you hastily threw in your cart, of course. If you'd prefer a veggie version, using cabbage, carrots, green beans, firm tofu, fried tofu puffs, and cellophane noodles gives you an Indonesian dish called sayur lodeh.

You can find Brahim's at your local Asian grocery store or online here. I like Kuah Kari Daging, although Kuah Rendang would do in a pinch. Kuah Kari Ikan works great for fish (mmm, salmon steaks) and Kuah Sambal Tumis is incredible with squid, shrimp, or a mixture of both. All of them work with firm tofu in place of meat and are gluten-free to boot! (And no, this is not an ad. I get nothing for mentioning either brand or site—only good karma for recommending good eats ;)

About the author: Wan Yan Ling is an impoverished grad student and sourdough finger-crosser living in Rhode Island. She can usually be found in the kitchen procrastinating on "real work" or online tracking down obscure recipes. Ling thinks eating alone is no fun, and she still believes in hand-mixing.

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