Curry is a quick way to get something flavorful on the table for dinner

Curry Chicken Meatballs with Quinoa. Photo by Michelle Stark, Times food editor.
Curry Chicken Meatballs with Quinoa. Photo by Michelle Stark, Times food editor.
Published August 21 2018

Curry dishes are one of my favorite go-tos for a quick and flavorful home-cooked meal.

The spice combinations lend a depth thatís hard to come by in a 20-minute dinner, and the sauciness ties a dish of whatever-is-left-in-the-fridge components together.

The term "curry" might be intimidating for some home cooks. Itís a broad term that refers to a dish usually consisting of meat or vegetables, cooked in a sauce loaded with spices like turmeric. I was hesitant to make curries, certain they required more work and specialized ingredients than I had time for.

Then I got into a groove, and now they appear on my kitchen table about once a week. My secret is a can of coconut milk and some store-bought or pre-prepared curry powder. Those two things are almost all you need to create that signature curry sauce, into which a myriad of vegetables and meats can be dunked.

I usually start with some garlic, onion and, if I have it, fresh ginger, the beginning of much Indian cooking. Those ingredients get sauteed in a saucepan, and within minutes you can smell your curry beginning to take shape.

Itís now that I add my spices. I have a store-bought curry powder in my pantry now, but Iíve also made my own. It just depends what you already have on hand. Most curry powders contain coriander, turmeric and cumin, with ginger, cinnamon and cardamom sometimes added for even more depth. If you want to experiment at home, Iíd start with something like this. Combine all of the following ingredients in a glass jar or leftover container, then shake well to combine.

2 tablespoons ground coriander

2 tablespoons ground cumin

2 tablespoons ground turmeric

1 teaspoon ground ginger

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

Ĺ teaspoon ground cardamom

Ĺ teaspoon cayenne pepper

By adding the curry powder to the saucepan before the coconut milk, you allow the spices to toast a bit and open up. Coconut milk plus a bit of tomatoes makes the sauce, which has been my standard for a number of dishes: chicken meatballs like the ones below, chicken breasts sauteed with broccoli, roasted tofu, roasted vegetables.

Curry is traditionally served with rice, but I subbed quinoa here for the grain. I often prefer the hard chew of a good rice, but quinoa is a lower-carb, protein-packed alternative I can get behind.

And if youíre ever skeptical of the components you add to your bowl, just slather on more of that curry sauce, and itís all gravy.

Curry Chicken Meatballs With Quinoa

1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon fresh ginger, peeled and grated

4 cloves garlic, minced

1 small onion, finely chopped

Olive oil

1 (13.5-ounce) can coconut milk

? cup crushed tomatoes, or tomato sauce

1 tablespoon curry power

1 teaspoon cumin

Ĺ teaspoon cayenne pepper

Salt and pepper

1 to 1 Ĺ pounds ground chicken

Ĺ cup uncooked quinoa

Crushed peanuts or almonds

Fresh cilantro or basil, roughly chopped

Greek yogurt, for serving

To a medium saucepan set over medium heat, add 1 teaspoon of the fresh ginger, 2 cloves of the garlic and the onion. Add a drizzle of olive oil and stir, cooking for about 5 minutes until everything is starting to soften.

Add coconut milk to saucepan, stirring well to scrape up any bits stuck to the bottom of the pan. Turn heat up to medium-high or high and bring to a boil for 5 minutes. Reduce heat slightly so a low boil continues, then add tomatoes, curry powder, cumin, cayenne and salt and pepper. Allow the sauce to cook while you prepare the rest of the meal.

Heat a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add a couple tablespoons of olive oil and let that to heat up while you make the meatballs.

Mix ground chicken in a bowl with remaining ginger (1 tablespoon) and garlic (2 cloves) and a hefty pinch each of salt and pepper and stir to combine. Form chicken into 1-inch meatballs. Add to skillet (you may have to do this in two batches so meatballs arenít too crowded) and cook for about 5 minutes on each side. Flip to make sure all sides get nice and browned, then turn off heat and let them linger in the skillet for a few minutes.

Add quinoa to a small saucepan set over medium heat and toast it for 1 or 2 minutes until fragrant. Add 1 cup water, then bring to a boil and cook uncovered for about 10 minutes, until water is mostly absorbed. Remove from heat, give it a stir, then divide among serving bowls.

Add meatballs to bowl, then spoon curry sauce over everything. Serve with a vegetable, like Brussels sprouts or broccoli.

Top with crushed nuts and basil and a dollop of Greek yogurt in each bowl just before serving.

Serves 2 to 4, depending how hungry you are.

Source: Michelle Stark, Tampa Bay Times