You know, after yet another birthday and yet another turn of the new year, thoughts turn - reliably - to uncomfortable questions such as "why exactly don't I own any real estate yet?" and "what exactly do I do to end up with less savings than any of my peers who choose to live outside of this city?" and "how exactly is living paycheck-to-paycheck in New York City affecting my future and the future of my unborn children (who actually belong in an entirely separate conversation that I am doing my best to ignore, thank you very much)?" and furthermore, "is it, this fantastic city, worth feeling sometimes as though I am forfeiting security and stability for the continued, vibrant experience of being a New Yorker?"
I'm sure I don't have to explain that the whole point of uncomfortable questions is that you often know the answers to them, you just don't feel like accepting them. But so that this doesn't devolve into some kind of Luisa confessional, I'll get to the original point I was attempting to make, namely that all of these questions end up being beside the point when you consider the glorious temple that is Kalustyan's and the fact that living in New York is precisely what allows you, on a whim, to stroll there after work so that you can pick up a bag of fresh curry leaves, a sack of patna rice, herb drying tips from the kindest shopkeeper around, and a renewed sense that living in New York is pretty fantastic no matter how much anxiety it induces.
Did your ears prick up around curry leaves? This was my first time encountering them and I can say unequivocally that, with one whiff of their nutty, complex fragrance (that has absolutely nothing to do with curry powder), I have been bewitched. You will, too! And don't worry, Kalustyan's has mail-order service.
The recipe is a few years old and comes from a piece by Amanda Hesser on gussying up Thanksgiving leftovers in the New York Times Magazine. Trust me when I tell you that this recipe should not be put aside until Thanksgiving rolls around. Go out now to buy yourself a butternut squash and make this right away. I cut my squash in half and then again lengthwise before roasting it in a 400 degree oven for 40 minutes. The orange flesh caramelized and intensified its sweetness. I mashed up the hot squash with softly cooked onions and spices before folding in an alluring melange of mustard seeds, the aforementioned curry leaves, a little red chili or two, and a handful of unsweetened coconut flakes.
The squash is lusty and sweet, delicately floral from the curry leaves, coconut, and mustard seeds, pleasingly hot with pepper, and entirely difficult to stop eating. Luckily for those of us with resolutions, there's no reason to. With a pile of fluffy patna rice and some steamed broccoli for good measure (an ethnically dubious food pairing, I know), this is pretty virtuous stuff. It also seems to cure hysteria about financial worries and advancing age. Maybe it's those curry leaves?
Speaking of which, I've got quite a few left over and no recipes for them of which to speak. Dear readers, any suggestions?
Butternut Squash Curry
3 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 cup chopped onion
1/2 teaspoon turmeric
3/4 teaspoon lightly crushed cumin (I used 1/2 teaspoon ground cumin)
1/4 teaspoon cayenne
3 cups baked, braised or mashed butternut squash
1 teaspoon black mustard seeds
1 red chili
10 curry leaves
1/2 cup unsweetened coconut
1. Heat 1 tablespoon oil in a medium saucepan. Add the onion and cook over medium-low heat until softened. Stir in the turmeric, cumin and cayenne and cook for 1 minute. Fold in the squash and warm gently.
2. Heat 2 tablespoons oil in a small saute pan. Add the mustard seeds, chili and curry leaves. When the seeds begin to pop, stir in the coconut off the heat. Fold into the squash, and season with salt.