Columnist Caitlin Weigel saves money by cooking tasty Indian food in the comfort of her home.
I’ll give you a hint: It starts with a “C” and rhymes with shmurry.
While I rarely crave Tim, I often find myself yearning for the edible version.
Over the summer, I frequented Cafe de Laos, a Thai restaurant on the corner of 11th Street and Washington Avenue in South Philly. This place had several things going for it. It was within walking distance of my house, had some decent lunch specials and was BYOB (for those of you who like to get your Yellowtail on while chowing down on lo mein.)
I enjoyed my meals at Cafe de Laos, but it wasn’t anything to write home about. I wasn’t busting down anyone’s door screaming they haven’t begun to live until they’ve eaten there. I would casually suggest it to friends if we were in the area and craving something other than a cheesesteak.
My usual order was a simple coconut-based curry with chunks of pineapple. Warm pineapple gets me every time. Doesn’t matter what else is in the dish – fish eyes, rat tails, the fingernails of Dickens-era orphans – if there’s some pineapple that happens to be above room temperature, count me in.
But why truck all the way down to South Philly if I can just make the curry myself? After all, I have recently mastered the art of corn and zucchini quesadillas and the ever-challenging craft of sandwich-making. With a surge in my kitchen confidence, I decided to see what I could do.
I found the basic recipe in my roommate’s vegetarian cookbook, which I occasionally leaf through while eating Lucky Charms or chunks of steak and other inappropriate foodstuffs.
One of the best things about meatless cooking is that it saves you a fistful of cash. Meat tends to cost a pretty penny, and if you can substitute the dead animals with some veggies, you’ll make your dietitian and your wallet happy, assuming you have a dietitian and a wallet capable of emoting.
If you’re setting out to make curry, it helps if you live in Spice City (not to be confused with “Spice World,” the 1997 film about a popular girl group). Turmeric, coriander, ginger, cinnamon, anise, nutmeg and cloves are all called for in the recipe.
Thankfully, the friendly Fresh Grocer has a well-stocked section of cheap spices near the international aisle. The international aisle is where you’ll find coconut milk and coconut cream.
Pick up some garlic, onions, a few dried chili peppers, a box of rice and a giant can of pineapple chunks and BLAMMO. You don’t quite have curry, but you have all the necessary fixings.
With all of my ingredients lined up on the counter, I began my recipe. Two lines in, the recipe called for me to grind the spices with a “mortar and pestle.” Because we’re all 17th-century witches and have that stuff lying around, I substituted the outdated tools for a mug and a spoon/my fist – I think I got pretty satisfactory results.
The recipe was pretty much adding stuff to other stuff in a pot on the stove and waiting for the magic to happen. The initial taste test after adding the coconut milk was pretty nasty, and I was fairly certain this meal was going to pass over my plate straight into the trash.
But after letting it simmer for a while, the spices really kicked in and made the whole thing much more palatable.
Like some sort of secret bonus, the dish got better and better with every round of leftovers. I ate it four nights in a row and each night, the spices got stronger and stronger.
I loved the sweet cinnamon, though I could have definitely done with less pepper. My eyes were watering so badly by the end of dinner, I looked like I just finished watching “Beaches.”
In the end, I say go for the cheat. Cafe de Laos is worth checking out if you’re in the hood, but making curry at home was an easy, rewarding kitchen adventure that I highly suggest you pursue.
Google a recipe or copy one out of a book in Barnes & Noble. The ingredients are cheap, and the result will yield enough to feed a small dinner party or provide you with solo dinners for a couple of days. I recommend watching “The Rocky Horror Picture Show” while you feast to bring it all full circle.
Caitlin Weigel can be reached at email@example.com.