red bean curry, with a side of nostalgia

This August marks the 15th anniversary of the year that I moved to New York and started college. That may seem like a semi random milestone, but working at my alma mater and getting to speak to the new first students during their orientation every year keeps me close to that eager / nervous / hopeful / standing at the start of something huge feeling. So yesterday I looked out across an auditorium of 600+ bright young things and really felt all 15 of those years. I thought about what a different world these students live in compared to the one I inhabited at 18. I thought about how far I’ve come since then, all of the complicated ways I felt about starting school, and what that first year was like (impossible, joyful, transformative). And, because I of course always come back to food, I thought about how many kidney beans I ate that year.

IMG_0078To say that I was not a fan of my first year dining hall experience would be a massive understatement (the food has gotten much better, I promise). Nothing on the menu looked good to me, and more often than not I ate a weird mishmash of food: lots of white rice, glass upon glass of skim milk, and sad salads comprised of spinach, green peppers, tuna, feta, and kidney beans. Amazingly, I still really enjoy all of the things I ate over and over again in that first grumpy hungry year. Especially kidney beans. I don’t eat them very often (except in Betty Phillips chili), but they are far and away my favorite bean. So when Sarah recommended a Smitten Kitchen red bean curry recipe after listening to me rhapsodize over my love of cumin (she had made this and this for an impromptu Monday gals’ dinner, and if you have a grill you should make recreate it immediately), I made it the very next day.

IMG_0067As ever, Sarah’s recommendation was solid gold. Smitten Kitchen’s original post calls this dish “an Indian cousin of your favorite spicy red bean chili,” and I found that to be totally on the money. The curry is homey, comforting, and full of warming spice.The promised cumin is there with all it’s smokey goodness, and I love the way the flavors of garlic, ginger, chili, and additional Indian spices like tumeric and coriander play together. I added roasted cauliflower to bulk up the veggie content, and was really pleased with the results.


The day I made this curry, I was an accidental vegan. I had had a green juice for breakfast and a veggie medley from a fancy takeout place near work for lunch, then came home and gave this a whirl. In general, I think a day with absolutely no animal products (not even cheese?!) would make me as grumpy and hungry as the dining hall left me in my first year of college. But after eating a nice big bowl of this curry, I was totally satisfied. Hal and I were both pleasantly surprised by how filling the dish was (serving it over quinoa certainly didn’t hurt), and at least one of us was surprised to like a meat-free dinner so much. Just like being back in college, we learn something new every day.

red bean curry
adapted from smitten kitchen

1 large head of cauliflower, cut into small florets
1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil (plus a few extra glugs)
1/8 cup chopped fresh ginger
1 medium onion, finely chopped
1 plum tomato, diced
3 cloves garlic, chopped
1 large green chili, chopped (optional)
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon ground coriander
1/2 teaspoon cumin seeds
1/2 teaspoon ground tumeric
1/4 teaspoon cayenne
15 ounce can of tomato sauce
30 ounces canned red kidney beans, undrained
1/2 cup chopped fresh cilantro

Preheat oven to 450. Toss cauliflower florets with a few glugs of olive oil, salt, and pepper. Spread onto a baking sheet and bake for 20 minutes, tossing at least once during cooking.

Once the cauliflower has been roasting for about ten minutes, heat remaining oil in a deep sauce pan over medium heat for one minute. Add ginger, garlic, onion, green chili, and let cook for one minute. Add the tomato sauce, salt and remaining spices and cook for an additional five minutes, stirring frequently. Add the canned red kidney beans (undrained) plus one additional cup of water, and tomatoes. Bring it to a boil, then reduce to medium heat and let cook uncovered for 5 minutes. Add cauliflower, and cook for 5 minutes more. You may want to add a bit more water if the sauce is thicker than you’d like after the additional of the cauliflower. Remove from heat and stir in cilantro. Serve over quinoa.


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