Slow-Cooker Cauliflower and Potato Curry with Peas

tonyr_pot_k Amanda writes: Hi. I liked the looks of that slow-cooker posole. I was wondering if you have any suggestions for vegetarian slow-cooker recipes? I’m trying to cook more vegetarian.

tonyr_cook_k Tony’s take: Thanks for the question, Amanda. I’m trying to ease up on meat, too. By the looks of it, there are still a couple months of winter left, ample time to have at the slow-cooker. I like the idea of a curry. It’s a preparation that works in a crock pot and won’t  feel vegetarian; rather, it’ll feel like a stew that just happens to be vegetarian. Cauliflower and potatoes are classic partners. A healthy dose of spice bridges the two, while creamy coconut milk combines with the starch of the potatoes to form a rich broth. Here’s how:

(hidden) Umami: When meat is not part of the equation, I like to seek other sources for depth of flavor and substance (ie: “meatiness”). Enter umami, what the Japanese have long viewed as the 5th taste (in addition to sweet, sour, salty, and bitter). Foods that contain umami (like Parmigiano, anchovies, and mushrooms) offer a savory edge to preparations, making them taste fuller and richer. Following this rationale, I finely chopped some shiitakes in a food processor (almost like a duxelle) and folded them into this stew. The mushroom’s texture wasn’t noticeable in the finished dish, but they did impart another layer of flavor.

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– Saute before slow cooking: The beauty of a slow-cooker is you can just throw everything in and press play. But I often add an initial sauteing/browning step, so the vegetables can get a little color, before getting to the crock pot. In this stew, I saute some red onion and ginger until they brown lightly and soften and then stir in some curry powder so it becomes fragrant and fresh.

THE RECIPE: Serves 6. 

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1. Get prepped: Finely dice 1 red onion (about 3/4 cup) and grate (or mince) 2 Tbs. ginger. Break 1 head cauliflower (about 2 1/2 lb) into 2-inch florets and peel 2 Russet potatoes (about 1 1/4 lb) and cut in 1-inch pieces. Add 3 1/2 oz  shiitake mushrooms (stemmed) to a food processor and pulse to chop.

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2. Saute the aromatic curry base: Set a heavy-based skillet over medium-high heat. Add 2 Tbs. peanut oil (or canola oil) and once it’s shimmering hot, add the onion and ginger and sprinkle with 1/2 tsp. kosher salt. Cook, stirring, until the onion softens and browns lightly, about 4 min. Add the chopped shiitakes to the pan and saute, stirring, until they soften, about 2 min. Stir in 1 Tbs. curry powder, 3 dried chiles, and 2 Tbs. tomato paste and cook, stirring, until the curry becomes fragrant and sizzles, about 1 min. Add 2/3 cup coconut milk and, using a wooden spoon, incorporate any browned bits that are stuck on the surface of the pan.

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3. Slow cook: Add the curry mixture to a slow cooker along with 2 1/2 cups water (or vegetable broth), the sliced cauliflower and potatoes, and 1 tsp. each salt and pepper. Stir well and then cover the slow cooker and cook on one of the shorter settings (anywhere from 4 to 6 hr) so the cauliflower maintains a little toothiness, but the potatoes are completely tender. Cook, stirring every hour or two, if you get a chance, to make sure the vegetables are submerged in the broth.

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4. Season and serve: Once the curry is cooked, stir in 2 cups frozen peas and season with more S+P to taste. Cook for another couple of minutes and then stir in 1 Tbs. fresh lime juice (from 1/2 lime) and 1/2 cup chopped fresh cilantro and serve with steamed basmati rice.

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