By Sharon Hudgins
Like many people concerned about the current pandemic, my husband Tom and I have been hibernating in our cave since mid-March. Every three or four weeks, when supplies run low, we venture out to hunt for food, like masked marauders armed with credit cards instead of teeth and claws.
One afternoon while writing up our shopping list for another foray into the dangerous world outside, we inventoried what was left in our refrigerator from the hunting trip a month before: four old carrots, a couple of nearly-over-the-hill bell peppers, three jalapeños, and a cabbage that needed eating soon.
“So what are we having for dinner tonight?” I asked.
“Clean-Out-the-Fridge Curry!” replied Tom, rooting through the pantry and pulling out a large can of tomatoes, another can of garbanzos, a big onion, and three sprouting potatoes to supplement the veggies from the fridge. He even found two chicken breasts in the freezer—a treasure trove indeed. We could survive for another day!
“Clean-Out-the-Fridge Curry” was his name for a dish I’d learned to cook when I was in graduate school, where I shared an apartment with an American woman who’d once been married to a man from India. She introduced me to a whole new world of spicy curries, seasoned rices, and colorful condiments from that part of the planet. On cold winter nights, she often cooked up a big pot of her hodgepodge curry, a thick stew made with her own blend of spices and whatever meats and vegetables were on hand—an inexpensive dish that sustained us for several days when both of us were too busy to cook. Later I carried that “recipe” with me around the world, making variations of it in my own kitchens from France and Germany to Scotland and Siberia.
In your biggest cooking pot sauté a large chopped onion in one-fourth cup of hot sunflower or peanut oil. When the onion is soft and translucent, sprinkle in a heaping tablespoon or two of hot curry powder and cook the mixture over medium-high heat, stirring constantly, for another couple of minutes, to remove any raw taste from the spices. Quickly stir in four or five canned whole tomatoes, crushing them to a pulp with the spoon, followed by any foods in the refrigerator that need to be eaten soon, before they spoil: meats, root vegetables, even fruits—all chopped into chunks about the same size. If the mélange seems too thick, add a bit of beef or chicken stock. Finally, bring the mixture to a boil, reduce the heat to a simmer, and partially cover the pot.
This aromatic curry cooks as long as it needs to—usually an hour or so, depending on the particular ingredients in the pot. After the first 30 minutes, taste the stew and add more spices: another tablespoon or two (or more!) of curry powder (mild, medium, or hot), some cayenne pepper, a pinch of ground cinnamon, a spoon of powdered ginger, a hint of cumin and cloves—all of them first fried together briefly in a little hot oil in a skillet, to eliminate rawness and bring out their flavor. Then taste the stew again and add salt as needed.
Serve this spicy curry with boiled white rice and whatever garnishes you can find in your kitchen: raisins, peanuts, chopped hard-boiled eggs, plain yoghurt, and any bottled chutneys lost in the back of your refrigerator. Regardless of the ingredients you throw together, “Clean-Out-the-Fridge Curry” is a tasty way to use up any edible odds-and-ends before stocking up again with a month’s worth of survival supplies on your next hunt out there in scary Covid country.
Sharon Hudgins’ latest cookbook is T-Bone Whacks and Caviar Snacks: Cooking with Two Texans in Siberia and the Russian Far East (University of North Texas Press, 2018).