The first time I ever went grocery shopping on my own, I could hardly contain my excitement. This, this is what independent adults did. I waltzed all over the store, eyes roaming the shelves for new delights. I came home with a smorgasbord of Claire-pleasing items. A leafy bunch of purple-stemmed Thai basil. Three bright lemons. A dozen eggs. Dried pasta shaped like curlicue-edged blankets. Carrots. A handful of tender baby spinach. A pack of ham. I couldn’t be happier.
Until the next day when I opened my cupboards to admire my amazing pasta find and realized nothing I had purchased in that delirious haze of happiness could be combined into any semblance of a decent meal.
I set all the individually-delicious ingredients on the kitchen table, stared at them cluelessly, then ran to Google for help.
Eventually, I emerged from my kitchen triumphantly clutching a white plastic Ikea mixing bowl half-filled with overcooked pasta. I did it. I had cooked my first meal. This scrumptious grilled chicken with lemon basil pasta except sans the grilled chicken, with floppy blanket pasta instead of penne, Thai basil instead of sweet basil, and last-minute-trip-to-the-grocery-store-again heavy cream. All cooked in a wok.
CLAIRE CAN COOK!
I took my grand masterpiece to my home meeting and everyone gamely consumed my pasta. I was tickled. The pasta was edible. What more could I desire?
A few days later, I surprised myself again with a gourmet omelette, haphazardly-folded with the help of my fingers and a pair of chopsticks, its innards of chopped spinach, ham, and carrots spilling out. As I ate my glorious omelette on campus out of a plastic green Ikea box, I savored with every bite that rubbery egg, dried out ham, crunchy carrot chunks, and the sweet, sweet taste of true adulthood.
It’s been a few years now. Life lesson learned? It’s alright to set your bar low sometimes. Then you’ll have plenty of room to exceed expectations. Also, always go shopping with a grocery list.
At least until you learn the basics of cooking.
I love following a good recipe to the book. Going out to buy all the requisite ingredients, la mise en place, all the fixings. But sometimes you have random scraps in your fridge, vegetables two days away from spoiling, or a giant bowl of relatively clean oil you once used to fry doughnuts and can’t bear to throw away just yet.
So you scrounge around your pantry, bounce ideas off your awesome photographer, and you make spiral curry puffs.
Spiral Curry Puffs
Adapted very liberally from this Malaysian recipe.
1 lb potatoes, peeled and cubed
1 onion, diced
1 cup frozen chopped spinach, thawed
1-2 carrots, peeled and cubed
2 tbsp curry powder
1 tbsp chili powder
1/2 cup water
A pinch of sugar
Salt and pepper to taste
- Boil the potato and carrots until cooked through completely. Drain and set aside.
- In a large pan, sauté the onions until lightly brown. Add the curry and chili powders and sauté until fragrant.
- Add the water to the mix so you have a paste, then add the potatoes and carrots.
- Stir in the spinach and make sure your mixture is evenly coated with the curry sauce. Season to taste. Add more water if your mixture is too dry.
- Mash up the potatoes with a spatula to your desired curry consistency.
- Set aside to cool while you work on the dough.
What makes these curry puffs “spiral” is two types of dough, an oil dough and a water dough layered and rolled together.
3 cups all purpose flour
1 cup + 1-2 tbsp water
1/4 tsp salt
2 tbsp butter, softened
1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
9 tbsp butter, melted
- To make the water dough, place the flour into a large bowl and rub the butter into your fingers (like making pie dough).
- Combine 1 cup of water with the salt, then add the water mixture to the flour.
- Mix until you have a smooth dough. If necessary, add a little more water.
- Set aside the water dough to rest for at least 10 minutes while you make the oil dough.
- To make the oil dough, pour the melted butter into a bowl with the flour and mix together until you have a smooth dough.
- Divide the water dough into 12 equal portions. Divide the oil dough into 12 equal portions. Pair one portion of water dough with one portion of oil dough.
- Roll out a portion of water dough into a palm-sized circle and place one portion of oil dough in the center of the circle. Wrap the water dough around the oil dough and seal the ball, placing it seam side down on the work surface.
- Flatten and roll out the dough ball into a 1/4″ thick round, then roll it up like a Swiss roll. Or a cigar. You get the picture.
- Now roll out the dough again, this time into a long strip 1/4″ thick.
- Roll up the strip, starting with the short side (i.e. the width instead of the length), then cut the roll in half.
- With the cut side up (so the spiraled dough is showing), roll out the dough into a thin round.
- Flip the dough over (so the ugly side is up) and fill with 1 tbsp of curry filling, fold over, and braid the edges together by pinching and folding over.
- Repeat steps 7-12 with all remaining 11 pairs of dough, and you will end up with 24 puffs.
- Fry the puffs in 2-3 inches of hot oil, turning every so often until the puff is golden brown.
- Drain on a paper towel-lined pan and serve immediately.