Fridge and Pantry Curry

On one burner, onions, garlic, ginger, spices, coconut milk simmered, surprisingly aromatic. A second saucepan stood cold and empty, awaiting its lentils, water and spices. Pot number two was to hedge my bets on the first dish, which I was sort of making up as I went along. The trusty rice cooker was steaming away with brown rice.

It was one of those what-can-make-with-what’s-already-here kind of meals. You know how it is. Of course, I made it extra challenging I because wanted to try making something Indian or India-style, a cuisine which I’ve always judged too complex for my skills. But we had various beans, nuts, spices, onions, and coconut milk in the house. And, as always, rice.

I was inspired by the words of the owner of an Indian restaurant in Virginia. Visiting my dear friends, Allyson and Patrick, I was effusing about the wonderful buffet and how I would never be able to replicate these foods at home. “No, it’s not so hard,” the man said. “Start simple.” The way he said it, it was sort of a benediction.

Dish number one, the cashew curry, was starting to look and smell promising. Still, even though it was already more than an hour after our usual dinnertime, I was determined to make the back up dish, a simple dal from a New York Times Recipe.

But before I could begin simmering the lentils, I wanted to get the chickpeas into my experiment so they could absorb the flavors which were beginning to blossom. (Yes, of course I was tasting as I went along.)

The recipe that inspired my creation was for a cashew curry from Kerala, India. Basically, I used the spices recommended, the technique for softening the cashews, and the rest was improvisation. And though it was a late dinner, it came out so tasty, we decided it was a definite keeper. (The dal, was good, too.)

The recipe is actually quite simple and uses mostly ingredients I often have in the cupboard. The spices may seem exotic, but turn out to be useful in a number of veggie dishes.  I tend to keep various nuts, beans, and coconut milk stocked in my pantry since they are useful in so many veggie recipes. About the veg: I used carrots and celery because they were the only veggies we had in the house, but cauliflower, zucchini, or other veggies you have on hand would be quite nice in this dish.

Kerala-Style Chickpea and Cashew Curry

Makes for servings.

  • ¾ cup cashew nuts unsalted
  • 1 TBS cooking oil
  • 2 yellow onions, sliced
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 TBS fresh ginger, minced
  • 2 tsp ground coriander
  • ¼ tsp tumeric
  • ¼ tsp cayenne powder
  • 1 can light coconut milk
  • 1 TBS tomato paste
  • ¼ cup water
  • 1 can chickpeas
  • 2 carrots, sliced into disks
  • 2 ribs celery, sliced into half-moons
  • salt and pepper to taste
  1. Soak the cashews in water
  2. Heat the oil in a medium saucepan and cook the onion until tender.
  3. Add the garlic, ginger, and spices and sauté briefly until fragrant.
  4. Pour in the coconut milk tomato paste and water, stir until thoroughly mixed, and bring to a lively simmer.
  5. Continue simmering for 15 minutes (or longer if you have rice still going or another dish to cook.
  6. Add the cashews, carrots and celery and simmer together until the veggies are appropriately soft for your taste.
  7. Serve with brown rice.


  1. The cashew dish looks delicious, and I’m always looking for another great way to use up pantry staples. This might have to make it into heavy rotation for us these next few weeks.

  2. Sounds good for tonight! How long do you soak the cashews? I might throw in some tempe I have in the drawer in the fridge and see what happens.

  3. 10-15 minutes should do it for the cashews–you can just let ’em soak while you’re doing the other steps. The only reason to soak is for texture, so if they end up a little crunchy, no big deal, and I don’t think you can over-soak them either. Tempeh should be good in there! I’d throw it in early so all the curry flavor soaks in. Bon apetit!

  4. Thanks! I’d love to hear how any variations work out for you.

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