Did you read creamy in the title, and thought of turning away from this recipe? Wait then. It's not what you think. There's no load of cream or butter in this dish. Some healthy yogurt (plant based if vegan) with a few cashews is all you need to stir up vegetables of your choice!
Lunch times in schools and offices in India have a special place in my memory. Friends and colleagues always had something new in their dabba (lunchbox), and I was eager to share my food with them and have a taste of their meals. Back in Bombay when I started my first job, we were a small group of people who ate lunch together. Everyone's lunchbox was a delight but A's vegetarian dabba was one of its kind. His mom made everything without any onion or garlic, and oh boy they tasted so good! Whether sautéed greens or vegetables or creamy sauces, they smelled extremely inviting. It's hard to put into words how amazing his mom's skills are when creating Indian dishes that had no onions or garlic! We had a sandwich shack just outside office and on days when I didn't pack my lunchbox, I bought something from there. On countless days A traded his dabba with me for those sandwiches! You bet I called him crazy!
Many cookbooks and Indian cooking recipes will call for onions and tomatoes in the gravies. While both ingredients provide the base for the broth into which spices are tossed and blended, they're not the only elements to do so. You can cook an Indian gravy without any onions and tomatoes, or garlic — another sought ingredient to bring a pungent note in gravies. As a matter of fact, several Indian communities such as the Jains, like the one A belongs to, never use onions or garlic in their gravies. In Odisha, where I grew up it's common to not have onion and garlic in many food preparations, especially the food that's offered in temples and prepared at homes as part of religious or spiritual beliefs on certain days of the week. While I'm not tied to the religion aspect so much, I find cooking Indian food without onions and garlic a welcoming change from the standard.
Yogurt, coconut milk and nuts are quite handy when you want to prepare a healthy creamy gravy. The age old Mughlai qorma is an example of how beautifully yogurt can be assimilated in a dish, and it's also a precedent to many vegetarian versions of some popular non-vegetarian recipes. This vegetable ensemble surely draws from the classic qorma, which is a Persian technique of braising meat with yogurt.
Contrary to popular opinion, gravies without onion and garlic taste great and you'll be amazed with the time saved in the kitchen when you don't have to chop onions or peel garlic! Although many Indian families prefer cooking such dishes for meals used to end fasts (fasting days are usually associated with eating food with no onion or garlic), I'm not attached to any religious ideologies. For me it's a complete meal on it's own as the yogurt (which also adds a good sour tone) and cashews provide the protein and fat while the veggies fulfill the micronutrient needs. With a rice dish or some flatbread on the side, weekday meals get done effortlessly!
One of the best and easiest ways to use leftover vegetables is perhaps making a mixed vegetable stir fry or gravy. There are several ways to make mixed vegetables in India, and no one variety can summarize them all.
If you want to make this dish like a stir fry, skip using the yogurt and cashews paste. For a vegan preparation, choose your favourite dairy free yogurt. If you've run out of yogurt or don't want to use it, you can use coconut milk as well. You can also skip yogurt and use tomatoes instead for sourness. The flavours will definitely vary with the alterations, each bringing its uniqueness to your plate and palate alike.
1/4 cup each of carrot sliced, beans chopped large, potatoes wedged, bell pepper chopped large, cauliflower florets and green peas (feel free to use other vegetables of your choice)
2 tbsp oil
Whole spices: 1 cinnamon, 2 cloves, 2 green cardamoms
1 tsp cumin
1 tsp ginger paste or minced
1 green chili, finely chopped
3 tbsp yogurt of any kind (vegan yogurt or tomato paste to make it dairy free) Note: All Indian gravies aren't full of sauce. Some dishes have the sauce just enough to coat the ingredients, and this mixed vegetable preparation has a similar texture. You can double the quantity of yogurt (or tomato paste) to make more gravy if you like.
1 tsp coriander powder
1/2 tsp red chili powder
1/2 tsp turmeric powder
4-5 cashews, roughly crushed or ground
1 tsp salt, or to taste
Fresh cilantro to serve
In a wok or pan, heat oil on medium heat. When the oil is hot, add the whole spices. Once fragrant, add the cumin, ginger and green chilies.
Reduce the heat slightly and add potatoes. Sauté for about 3-4 minutes and then add cauliflower. Toss for the next 3 minutes and add carrots. After 3 minutes, add the beans and once the beans are sautéed for 3 minutes, add the bell pepper. Add the peas on top and stir to mix.
Keep the heat at medium to low, and in a bowl whisk coriander, chili and turmeric powder, ground cashews into the yogurt along with some salt. Pour this mixture over the vegetables and stir continuously for about a minute on low heat. After 10 minutes, the spices will be slowly cooked with the yogurt.
Add some water, about 1/3 cup, cover and cook till the vegetables are tender and well cooked yet hold their shape. You can open the lid in between to check for doneness.
Add more salt if needed, and stir to combine. Garnish with fresh cilantro and serve.