24 July, 2007

Creamy Coconut Tomato Curry (Low-fat)

Loving Indian food and curries as much as I do, but considering that a lot of the food is fried and not so innocent of calories might rule it out while I'm on a diet. But I have been reading a book called The Tortoise Diet and of all the diets I've read about or tried over the years this seems to be the most sensible and have the most chance of working. One of the pieces of advice that the author, Patricia Church, gives is that you should eat foods that you love. Now, how many diets have ever said that? Precious few. Most of them seem to be fixated on manipulating my protein or carbohydrates until I start to feel like I'm aboard the Enterprise eating Ferenghi Food, and maybe starting to morph into one too with all the changes in my body chemistry, hormones, ketones, not to mention comfort zones. And I usually develop strange cravings for things that I can't have. I remember one short bout with the Atkins diet way back when, when anything vegetable, even the cardboard box holding the groceries was starting to look good, maybe with a little mustard? In my book, any diet where you can't eat chocolate or curry or especially vegetables and fruit is a complete flop. I just didn't want to eat a bunch of meat, even when I wasn't a vegetarian. My favourite foods were always rice-based, or something with pasta, tortillas and beans, salads of all kinds and fruits.

So it's important to me that my diet have all the things I love to eat. I just need to teach myself how many calories are in foods, and what are the proper portions. Those are quite small, as it turns out. A half-cup of brown rice has about 140 calories. Healthy, but nutrient dense, so I still eat it but I've cut my portions at least in half. If I'm still hungry, and often I am, then I make a big salad and eat a piece of fruit for desert. I'm not doing perfectly. I still slip and the calorie count for the day shoots up. But I look at this as something I'm going to be doing for the rest of my life. Changing my eating habits to healthier ways. Getting more moderate enjoyable exercise on a regular basis, rather than hours here and hours there but little in between. Adding a regular weight workout to my life, something I've been doing, but sporadically, for years. And stretching myself to make recipes for delicious food that I love to eat in lower-fat, and therefore lower-calorie, versions.

I guess I was feeling a little low on the day that I wrote the post about my knees and asked others to share their recipes. The next day I picked myself up and realized that if I want to succeed with this I need to lead the way, not wait for others. There are a lot of good low-fat vegetarian recipes on the web already, if I want to do the research, but it never hurts to have a few more. So I'll be posting up my experiments here, and I'd be grateful for any comments, additions or tweaks people may have.

I'm starting out with a low-fat version of a curry I posted before as English Teacher's Vegetable Curry. This is a much lower fat version, made creamy by tomato puree and the addition of a moderate amount of coconut milk. You can of course add more if you like but I think this is pretty good-tasting for a low-fat recipe. I enjoyed it over several meals and it was good to the last drop, draped over moderate amounts of nutty genmai (brown rice).

You can vary the vegetables according to what you have on hand; I used the small Japanese eggplants, new potatoes (a gift from my student's garden), and the small thin cucumbers we get in Japan.

Creamy Coconut Tomato Curry (Low-fat)


1 Tb good oil
1/4 tsp whole black peppercorns
3/4 tsp whole cumin seeds
6 green cardamom pods
2 bay leaves
7 whole cloves
1-inch piece of stick cinnamon
1/2 large or 1 medium onion, diced
1-inch piece of fresh ginger, minced
6-7 cloves fresh garlic, minced

3 small eggplants, chunked
2 small cucumbers, sliced
3 small potatoes, cubed
212 grams or 1 and 1/3 cups tomato puree ( you may have to adjust this to your taste)
4 Tb good-quality canned coconut milk ( I use milk from Thailand)
1 and 1/2 tsp salt (I use sea salt)
a few thin slices jaggery (maybe 1-2 Tb brown sugar could substitute)
1/8 to 1/2 tsp cayenne pepper

1 tsp Garam Masala

In a large fying pan or wok, over medium heat, put 1 Tb of a good oil and add:

1/4 tsp whole peppercorns
3/4 tsp cumin seeds
6 whole green cardamom pods
2 bay leaves
7 whole cloves
1-inch piece of stick cinnamon

Saute for a few seconds and then add:

1/2 large or 1 medium diced onion
1-inch sized cube of fresh ginger, minced
6-7 cloves fresh garlic, minced

Stir and fry for a few minutes until the onion becomes a bit brown (brown flecks are okay.)

Then add 3 eggplants cut in chunks, cubed potatoes, and diagonally sliced cucumber (equivalent to two small). In North America about 1/3 to 1/2 of an English cucumber sliced down the length in the middle and then diagonally cut would be a good substitute. Leave the peel on. One North American-sized eggplant will be enough, but you will probably need to peel it if the peel is too tough and bitter. If you can find the small egg-shaped ones they are better for this recipe.

Give it a few stirs and add the tomato puree, about 212 grams. In North America that would be about a cup and 1/3 but this is fairly flexible, I think. In Japan I use Hikari puree in the glass bottle ( 2/3 of a bottle). I think the closest substitute would be a variety with Italian plum tomatoes.

Stir and add some water to just cover the vegetables, a few cups should be about right. It will depend on the size of your pan and amount of vegetables. (See the picture.) Add the salt and cayenne pepper to taste. Add the jaggery or brown sugar. Put the curry to simmer (on low heat) and occasionally give it a stir. Cook until the vegetables are tender, about 20-30 minutes. Some time in that period you can add 4 Tablespoons of coconut milk. (I use canned milk.) This adds fewer calories and less fat than the 5 Tb of oil the recipe originally called for!

In the last 10 minutes, shake over it about a tsp of Garam Masala. Taste and adjust the seasoning, if necessary. (Add more salt or hot pepper).

Enjoy with brown or other rice.

Health Note: My knee has improved significantly in the only 1 week that I have been following this diet. I was able to go on the treadmill for the first time this past week. The pain is down a lot! Yesterday I was able to manage without my walking stick. This was quite sudden after 5 weeks of not much progress. I attribute it to all the nutrients and vitamins I'm getting with all the added fruits and vegetables, which may be promoting faster healing. Yay!!!


Julia said...

oooh, wow! i love coconut curry and yours looks fantastic! i often cook things like that, it is something i could eat anytime! i never had cucumber in it though - have to try that. i especially love to have some baby-corn (alongside other veggies) in coconut curry.. tastes sooo good!

Sea said...

This looks absolutely delicious! Where did you find Jaggery in Japan??? I was never able to find any, although I could get coconut milk and some other Thai/Indian ingredients.

I've never tried heating the Japanese style cucumbers- mostly just salted them for pickles or put them in potato salad. *nostalgic sigh* What are they like when cooked?


vegetablej said...

julia: Baby corn or fresh corn off the cob sounds just great. I'll try it next time.:) Thanks!

Now they have an Indian foods website (Indojin.com). It's in my shopping section if you want to look. They will deliver anything to your door within about 3 days and you can pay C.O.D. I so appreciate having access to good spices and rice.

Cucumbers cooked in curry are a little thing I picked up from a house mate when I was in college. They are pretty good. They taste like melon with a just slightly bitter edge (the peel). I think they go well with any curry with a fruity flavour (in this case tomatoes and coconut.

I think you could just strip peel the regular ones if you can't get the English variety, but I would use a spoon to scoop out any seeds before cutting them up.

Now potato salad, don't get me started. I loooove it. Just got to figure out a way to cut way down on the calories.

Minik Kus said...

This looks delicious. I cannot eat meat and always look for blogs or websites that gives me vegetarian recipes. Thanks for sharing these delicious recipes with us. I'll come again and take some notes about your recipes.

vegetablej said...

Welcome minik kus; come by any time. :)

Sea said...

The next time I'm living in Japan (probably in a year or two) I will definitely check out Indojin. When we lived there we were jonesing terribly for international ingredients, although Chiba was fairly international.

Anonymous said...

Hi - how did The Tortoise Diet work for you? thanks