A mellow mixed-grain pilaf pairs well with a flavorful green curry. (Reshma Seetharam)

A mellow mixed-grain pilaf pairs well with a flavorful green curry. (Reshma Seetharam)

How to enjoy glorious versatility with Indian green curry

Three ways to serve the popular dish from India: with mixed grain pilaf, garlic naan and spinach salad.

Green curries are a staple in South Indian cuisine.

Indian green curry is not to be confused with Thai green curry, though most of the ingredients are the same.

The coconut milk-based curry is the secret to making numerous recipe variations. The versatility of the green curry as a base allows you to make delectable curries no matter if you’re vegan, vegetarian or if you eat meat. You can also make the curry and freeze it for ease of cooking later.

Lamb, pork, chicken, meatballs and seafood work well in green curries. If you plan to use this base in vegan dishes, go easy on the garam masala. Use less curry base. Boiled eggs, paneer, mushroom, beans and vegetables absorb far less spice and flavor compared to meat. Coconut milk can help alter the depth of flavors. Use more milk for a milder flavor.

All the three dishes featured in this column pair well with this green curry recipe — to which I also like to add egg, chicken or lamb.

Green curry base

1 cup onion, diced

1 cup tomatoes, diced

2 cups fresh baby spinach

1 cup fresh cilantro

7-9 green chilies

1 teaspoon ginger paste

1 teaspoon garlic paste

1 teaspoon garam masala powder

¼ teaspoon turmeric powder

2 teaspoons coriander powder

1 cup coconut cream or 2 cups coconut milk

1 cup water, if needed

2-4 tablespoons vegetable oil

Salt to taste

In a saucepan on medium heat, add oil. Toss in the onions and chilies. Saute until the onions brown.

Add in tomatoes and cook until soft. Turn off the heat. Add cilantro and spinach. Toss until the greens soften. Once this mixture cools down, pour it into a blender and puree.

In the same saucepan, on low heat, add oil. To this add ginger garlic paste and all the powders. Saute until aromatic. Pour in the green puree and turn the heat to medium. Cook until the oil separates.

Add in coconut milk and salt to taste, combine well. The base is ready. Makes 4-5 cups.

Saute any meat or vegetable of your choice until half cooked. Pour the green curry over and let steam covered until the meat and/or veggies are completely cooked.

Mixed-grain pilaf

Pilafs can be as spicy or as mellow as you like. When pairing it with a flavorful curry, it’s nice to have a mellow side that compliments the main dish. Here is one such pilaf that is easy to put together and pairs perfectly with the green curry.

1 cup quinoa

½ cup wild rice

½ cup Basmati rice

2 cups fresh or canned coconut milk

2 cups boiling hot water

1 medium onion, chopped

3-4 garlic cloves, chopped

½ cup fresh or frozen peas

½ cup carrots, diced

½ teaspoon garam masala powder

½ teaspoon white pepper powder

4-6 cashews

Salt to taste

2 teaspoons of ghee, butter or oil

Wash and soak the raw grains together in cold water. Set aside for 20 minutes.

In the meantime, get a thick bottom quart pan or Instant Pot on saute/medium.

Add ghee, when it shimmers, stir in cashews and garlic.

Once the garlic turns light brown, toss in the onions, let cook to a caramel brown. Add in peas and carrots, garam masala and white pepper powder.

When the powders are aromatic, add coconut milk and hot water. (If using an Instant Pot, change to rice mode.)

When it begins to boil, add in the soaked, drained rice and salt to taste. Let it cook covered on low for about 12-15 minutes until the rice is cooked and fluffy. Serve hot with green curry or eat it as is.

Makes 4 servings.

Garlic naan

Naan is an oven-baked flat bread found in most Asian cuisines. It is primarily made with all-purpose flour. This recipe uses whole-wheat flour instead of white flour to make it more healthful. Since most of us don’t have a flatbread oven at home, this recipe calls for a skillet.

For the naan:

2 cups whole-wheat flour

1 teaspoon sugar

½ teaspoon salt

1 egg (optional)

1 cup plain yogurt

½ teaspoon baking powder

¼ teaspoon baking soda

½ cup lukewarm water

For the garlic garnish:

¼ cup melted butter

¼ cup vegetable oil

4-6 garlic cloves, mashed or finely chopped

¼ cup chopped cilantro

Mix yogurt, baking soda, powder, salt, sugar and water in a bowl. Whisk until combined. Set aside.

In a large bowl, mix flour and the yogurt mixture to form a dough. If the mixture requires more liquid, add some warm water, kneading it to a form a soft dough.

Let the dough sit covered for 15 minutes to an hour.

Make garlic oil by combining the above ingredients. You may use it in two ways: Either dip the dough ball into the oil, then roll the dough out and bake — or give each naan a brush of garlic oil once the bread has finished cooking. I prefer the first method.

Pour a teaspoon of oil over the risen dough, punch it down and knead well. Divide the dough into 8 balls.

Dip each dough ball into the garlic oil. Roll onto a dusted flour surface to a round or oval shape.

Add a teaspoon of water on the top surface of the naan and smear well.

Heat a dry skillet to medium-high. A cast iron or regular pan works well. Non-stick pans will not hold the naan when you flip.

Place the watered side of a naan down on a hot skillet. Let it cook until bubbles form. As the naan starts to bubble, flip the skillet over to the open flame and let it cook to a golden brown. Brush the cooked naan with garlic oil. Repeat these steps seven more times. Serve hot with green curry.

Makes 4 servings.

Spinach salad

This crunchy and tangy salad with a refreshing lime-garlic dressing is easy to make and pairs perfectly with the green curry.

For the dressing:

¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil

2 tablespoons lime juice

1 teaspoon minced garlic

1 teaspoon honey

¼ cup chopped cilantro

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

For the salad:

1 cup cherry tomatoes, cut in half

1 cup cucumbers, diced

1 cup celery, diced

1 cup colored peppers, diced

4 cups baby spinach, washed and drained

In a mixing bowl, whisk together the olive oil, lime juice, garlic, honey and cilantro. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

In a medium salad bowl, toss together the tomato, cucumber, celery, peppers and spinach. Toss in the dressing. Let it marinate in the fridge for about 10 minutes. Serve with green curry.

Makes 4 servings.

Reshma Seetharam is a former Herald employee who has a second career as a food writer. For more of Seetharam’s recipes, visit her website at www.reshmaseetharam.com. You can also watch her YouTube channel, ReshmaMyfoodarama, and connect with her via Instagram @reshmaseetharam.

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