While I've always prided myself on being a "foodie," I haven't always loved to cook. The turning point for me was when I realized that you have to be able to navigate the grocery store, prep your food, and most importantly, cook it, in order to eat a clean diet. Learning to do all of these things over the years has been extremely rewarding, and as a lifestyle coach, it is one of the things I get excited to teach others how to do! That being said, I thought I'd start by sharing one of my favorite Indian-inspired dishes, that's both filling and delicious, hot off the stovetop or cold leftover!
THE SPICE OF LIFE:
I have always been fascinated by Indian culture—the intricate Henna tattoos, the beautiful saris that the women wear, the ornate decor, the bold, bright colors, the practice of yoga, and, of course—the cuisine!
I was exposed to the culture at a very young age. My aunt, Ameeta, is one hundred percent Indian, and my cousins, Alyssa and Alex, were, and still are like sisters to me. Their grandparents, Prem and Mahendra, would frequently invite us all over and cook up a big Indian feast—it was a game changer!
Alyssa was my best friend growing up—we were inseparable—and in just a few short weeks, she will be getting married to Raj, her fiancé. I am so excited to be a part of their big day as a bridesmaid, and can't wait to experience an Indian wedding ceremony, as well as all of the other traditional events that will take place over the course of the weekend. And let's not forget about how amazing the food is most definitely going to be! (I'll sure to post photos of my experience!)
While witnessing various Indian ceremonies and rituals over the years, food always played a vital role in bringing everyone together—as it does in virtually every culture. The early exposure in my childhood definitely allowed me to be more open-minded and accepting of not only different people, but different foods, as well. When Dusty and I got together, I was sure to introduce him to Indian food very early on in our relationship. It pretty much went down like that scene with Ben Stiller and Jennifer Aniston in Along Came Polly! Now, the majority of our favorite date-night spots are local, mom and pop, ethnic restaurants.
While it is fairly simple to find a vegetarian or plant-based meal at an Indian, Thai, or Japanese restaurant, you don't always know what ingredients are going into the food you're eating. Don't get me wrong, I love to indulge, but eating out is typically less healthy and more expensive than cooking at home. I wanted to know what went into making my favorite dishes, and what I could improve to make them healthier, while maintaining the same delicious taste. Eventually, I decided that learning how to cook was the only way to find out! After playing around in the kitchen with different spices, I finally came up with the perfect combination that wasn't too overpowering, yet still tasted how an authentic Indian dish at a restaurant would.
Rule number one, cooking Indian cuisine is all about having the right spices on hand! Turmeric, cumin, coriander, garam masala, cinnamon, cloves, the list goes on! Once you've got your spice cabinet stocked, then you just need to pick a grain: think basmati rice or red split lentils, and some veggies: cauliflower, potatoes, peas, bell peppers, onions—and garlic and ginger root are a must!
Erin's Jai Spice Quinoa Curry:
This recipe is a great plant-based beginner recipe for those that are new to the diet, new to cooking, or both! Even the meat-lover in the family will thoroughly enjoy this hearty and flavorful dish. Quinoa (KEEN-wah) is a delicious and nutritious gluten-free grain, and is one of the few plant foods that is a complete protein, containing all 9 essential amino acids. Combined with a healthy dose of vegetables, herbs, and spices, you've got yourself an incredibly nourishing and satisfying meal!
- 3/4 cup quinoa (dry)
- 1.5 cups low sodium vegetable broth or water
- 1 tablespoon coconut oil (optional)
- 1 yellow onion, diced
- 2-3 garlic cloves, minced
- 1 thumb of ginger, grated
- 1 teaspoon turmeric root, grated
- 1 teaspoon cumin
- 1 teaspoon coriander
- 1 teaspoon cinnamon
- 1/2 teaspoon garam masala
- sea salt and cracked pepper to taste
- 1 head cauliflower florets
- 3 carrots, peeled and sliced
- 1 zucchini, chopped
- 1 red or yellow bell pepper, diced
- 3/4 cup frozen peas, thawed
- 1 lemon, cut into wedges
- 1 bunch cilantro, chopped
- Measure out the spices and set aside. Chop all veggies and set aside, as well.
- In a medium saucepan, bring 1.5 cups of vegetable broth or water to a boil. Thoroughly rinse quinoa in a fine mesh sieve under cold water and add to the boiling water. Reduce head to medium-low, cover with a lid, and simmer about 15 minutes or until most of the liquid has been absorbed and the grain is cooked. You will be able to tell if the quinoa is done because it will look like it has popped open, revealing the germ of the kernel inside.
- Meanwhile, in a large frying pan, sauté the yellow onion in coconut oil, (or a small amount of vegetable broth for an oil-free version) for a couple of minutes. Then, add the garlic and sauté for another couple of minutes. Finally, add the spices and fresh grated ginger and turmeric (if you have them, or else just add the spices) and stir. Add in some freshly cracked sea salt and pepper, erring on the conservative side (you can always add more later)! Continue sautéing the onions and garlic in the spice mixture until it becomes fragrant and the onion is translucent.
- Now all you have to do is add in all of the chopped veggies (cauliflower, carrots, zucchini, and bell pepper) with about 1/2 cup of water, cover, and let simmer on low. I usually like to add the frozen peas in when the rest of the veggies are pretty much done cooking so that they don't get too mushy. Stir occasionally. Add another 1/2 cup of water if needed.
- After about 15 minutes, or when the vegetables are tender, add the quinoa to the veggies. At this point, I usually like to do a taste test to see if I need to add more salt and/or pepper. Once you get the right amount, stir and mix well, and let set for a few minutes.
- Now you're ready to dish! If you really want the full experience, I recommend garnishing with cilantro and a squeeze of a lemon wedge!
Note: Brown rice and/or naan make a great addition to this meal, but I find it to be completely satisfying on it's own. As always, I usually like to have a small green salad as an appetizer before the main course! Enjoy!
Favorite Local Gems:
What to get for Newbies:
- Signature soup: Mulligatawny Soup
- Breads: Naan, Garlic Naan or Stuffed Paratha
- Sampler: Vegetarian Thali
- Cauliflower and potato dish: Aloo Gobi Masala
- Lentil-based dish: Any of the Dal dishes
- Potatoes, Paneer cheese, and peas: Aloo Mataar Paneer
- Indian-spiced chicken: Chicken Tikka Masala
- Incredible smoothie: Mango Lassi
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