With all of this rainy, cold weather in Los Angeles (finally!), our nighty menus are shifting accordingly. One of our favorite warming, homey go-to cuisines for such chilly weather is Indian. Rather than relying on our usual favorite Indian cookbook though, we instead recently employed another favorite, Tender by British chef + author Nigel Slater. The cookbook is far from vegan, but, with its heavy reliance on vegetables—all stemming from Slater’s desire to cook from his home’s vegetable garden—its narrative format, and its beautiful photography, its one of our favorite cookbooks for years now, hands down.
One recipe Slater tackles is an Indian korma—a dish originating in South Asia consisting of meat or vegetables braised in a spiced sauce made with yogurt, cream, nut or seed paste. Besides swapping in a cashew cream for the dairy in the original recipe, we also altered the vegetables included in the mix to better fit what was available in late fall/early winter farmers’ markets, meaning in our case bringing in pumpkin to pinch hit for some of the other, less common roots.
We recommend cozying up with a nice book, a bottle of red, and embracing this thing we call El Niño. Here’s what you need:
• 2 medium yellow onions
• 1 piece of ginger (the size of a fat thumb)
• 3 cloves garlic
• a mixture of fresh pumpkin, carrots, parsnip, and sweet potato (2.5 lbs. in total)
• 2/3 cup cashews
• 6 green cardamom pods
• 2 tsp cumin seeds
• 1 tbsp coriander seeds
• 2 tbsp olive oil
• 2 tsp ground turmeric
• 1 tsp smoked paprika
• 1 cinnamon stick
• 2 small green chiles
• 1.5 cup cashew cream (see below)
So, first off, peel the onions and chop them into large pieces before blitzing them in a food processor or blender until coarsely minced (not blended into a purée). Peel and coarsely grate the ginger and peel and finely slice the garlic, set both aside. Depending on the pumpkin you get, you may or may not need to peel the skin from it. Common pumpkins at southern California farmers’ markets like kabocha and red kuri can be steamed with their skins on as they tend to be absorbed into the flesh, giving a more complex and fulfilling taste overall; others, like common pumpkins and acorn squashes are usually preferred skinned. So, figure out which you have and take the skin off or don’t (ask your farmer at the market too—they usually have great ideas on what can be used how). The main thing you want is a sweet pumpkin with dry flesh, ideally. Cut it and the rest of the unpeeled root vegetables into bite-size chunks—maybe 1″ or 2″ square, understanding that they’ll break down a bit as they’re all cooked; set aside. Now coarsely chop half of the cashews and set aside.
On to the spices—open the cardamom pods and scrape out the black seeds, then use a spice grinder or mortar + pestle to crush them. Likewise, grind the cumin and coriander seeds (individually if you’re using a manual grinder or mortar + pestle, so you can better control the particle sizes and get them all to a fine powder).
Heat the oil in a heavy-bottomed pan like a cast iron and add the onions, cooking over medium heat to soften and brown but not blacken at the edges; they’ll become very fragrant as they caramelize. Stir in the grated ginger and garlic, bringing the heat down to medium-low and cooking for five minutes or so, then add all of the spices—cardamom, cumin, coriander, turmeric, paprika, and the cinnamon stick whole. Continue to cook and stir, as it all becomes fragrant, and then add the vegetables and cashews after five or so minutes. Throw in the chiles, sliced very thinly and added as you see fit depending on the desired spice level.
Stir in 3 cups of water or vegetable broth and cover with a tight lid, letting the mixture simmer for 45 minutes to an hour, until the vegetables are all tender to the fork. Toast the remaining whole cashews in a dry pan, browning and then setting aside.
Now carefully add the cashew cream, which replaces the dairy cream and yogurt in the original recipe. Basically, all you need for the most basic of cashew creams is raw cashews and water. It’s best to submerge and soak the cashews overnight for the creamiest end result but, with a great blender, sometimes that’s not even necessary. Blend the cashews with a little water and, if you like, a little rice vinegar, nutritional yeast, salt, and/or a fresh garlic clove, all to taste, for a little more flavor and life in your cashew cream. Keep an eye on total liquid level, adding as you go rather than ending up with something that’s too runny in the end. You want to aim for a creamy, fairly thick cashew cream, more viscous than a sauce. We encourage experimenting with cashew creams if you’ve never made them before though, and they’re great to freeze if you have excess you’ll want to use later.
Cook the mixture with the cream for another ten minutes or so, stirring and testing the seasoning, adding salt or pepper as you see fit. Once you’re happy, plate, garnishing with the whole roasted cashews and chopped cilantro. Enjoy!