Food & Drink

Give your spice rack a workout this new year

The cookbook author Meera Sodha shares her recipe for cauliflower, cashew, pea and coconut curry. )
The cookbook author Meera Sodha shares her recipe for cauliflower, cashew, pea and coconut curry. ) NYT

Most American New Year’s resolutions focus on how to eat less food. Mine are trained on ways to consume more.

More dinner parties! More tackling of recipes that have been sitting in a manila folder since before my now college-age child was born! More late-to-the-party Instant Pot cooking! More fear-facing: I will master bone broth!

Before embarking on new cooking odysseys, one must reckon with the spice drawer. It is hard to face faded dried herbs and spices, especially those you may have picked up during, say, a trip to Mexico, ones you wrapped in several pounds of dirty clothes with the hope of tricking the customs dog, which actually was not remotely interested in your oregano.

Dead spices, unlike spoiled yogurt or moldy cheese, somehow feel like failures, a reminder of big culinary dreams that you failed to fulfill in the prior year. But sniff, accept and toss you must. Then you can reorganize, and assess what you have left.

I suggest pouring all of your remaining spices into uniformly sized containers and creating labels for them with painter’s tape and a Sharpie. Cabinet organization is the courtship portion of your New Year’s relationship with your kitchen, the hopeful and exciting discovery process, the sultry dance with dried porcini powder before the prosaic reality of day-to-day life sets in.

Now it’s time to start cooking up the still-fragrant but perhaps too-abundant spices that made the cut, before they too lose their vibrancy and join your lemon rinds and eggshells in the compost grave. For me, those included garam masala, caraway seeds, sumac and herbes de Provence.

After poring over some of the more exciting cookbooks published in recent years in search of simple ways to use my spices, I found several oddly healthful options that were profoundly delicious.

If you too are long on garam masala – and coriander and cumin – might I turn you toward the cauliflower, cashew, pea and coconut curry from Meera Sodha’s lovely cookbook “Made in India: Recipes From an Indian Family Kitchen”? This is quite frankly one of the best vegan recipes I have ever eaten, and weeknight-friendly to boot, especially if, like me, you are inclined to press others to cut up the cauliflower, perhaps by noting that you have folded the last 11 loads of laundry.

I substituted chile powder with a good squirt of hot sauce, with favorable results. The cashews round this dish out, and the flavors, culled from your now-clean spice cabinet, are layered and deeply satisfying.

For using up some sumac, I turned to my pal Cathy Barrow’s latest book, “Pie Squared: Irresistibly Easy Sweet & Savory Slab Pies,” but took a major shortcut: Her sumac-scented eggplant slab pie calls for a phyllo dough crust, which I promptly ignored.

Instead, I reduced the amount of olive oil used to sauté the garlic, as I would have no pie crust to brush with it, and cooked the eggplant and tomatoes as directed but tossed in a can of chickpeas to give the dish a protein component. I finished it off with another thing I am constantly left with: the bottom of a bottle of pomegranate molasses.

While this is all meant to go into a slab pie, mine went straight to a serving bowl as a side dish, though it’s also delicious as a main course over rice with yogurt and chopped herbs, and is even better the next day. Slab pies without pie crust forever! (Also, another hit for the vegan friends, if you leave off the yogurt, though I swear all this healthy living is largely inadvertent.)

Now what to do with all the herbes de Provence, which I am reasonably sure I never purchased to begin with? Fade to memory of a cousin cooking Brussels sprouts last summer in a manner I have never repeated. Maybe.

First, I treated myself to “Let’s Eat France!” by François-Régis Gaudry, which is really less a cookbook in any traditional sense and more a large-scale celebration of all things pertaining to buying, preparing and eating French food. This book led me to ignore my entire family as well as the needy cockapoo – “Can anyone in this house walk the dog besides me?” – as I spent a significant portion of a Saturday afternoon staring at a full-page display of the knives of France’s historical provinces, and another on the history of cornichons.

In the end, I baked the book’s mi-cuit chocolate cake, but found no use for my herbes de Provence.

I decided to revisit my own go-to weeknight recipe for boneless, skinless chicken breasts. The recipe – which is about as thrown together as your end-of-the-week refrigerator drawers can yield – makes ample use of the herbs that grew prolifically on my porch this summer, perhaps the result of record levels of rain. With little left back there beyond stubborn rosemary and a trying-hard-not-to-look-depressed bit of sage, my spice drawer had to step in.

After salting and peppering the breasts, I tossed them into a plastic bag with some white wine, olive oil, a few garlic cloves and a ton of the herbes de Provence, and left it all day before cooking them on the stove for a fast after-work supper.

The dried herbs did the trick, though I was a bit aggressive with my measurements. Next time, I will take it down a notch, and then spend much of February looking for another use for the remaining herbs.

Cauliflower, Cashew, Pea and Coconut Curry

Yield: 4 servings

Total time: 45 minutes

Ingredients:

1 (1-inch) piece fresh ginger, peeled and chopped

4 garlic cloves, chopped

1 green chile, roughly chopped (seeded if you prefer less heat)

Kosher salt

4 tablespoons canola oil

2 large onions, finely chopped

1 tablespoon tomato paste

1 1 / 2teaspoons ground coriander

1 1 / 4teaspoons ground cumin

1 / 2teaspoon chile powder

1 large head cauliflower (about 1 1 / 4pounds), broken into bite-size florets

1 (14-ounce) can unsweetened coconut milk

4 ounces unsalted cashews (about 3 / 4cup)

1 / 2cup frozen peas

1 / 2teaspoon garam masala

1 small bunch cilantro, leaves chopped, for serving

1 lemon wedge, for serving

Cooked basmati rice, for serving

Preparation:

1. Place the ginger, garlic and green chile in a mortar and pestle with a pinch of salt. Mash until a paste forms and set aside. Alternately, finely chop the ginger, garlic and green chile together, sprinkle with a pinch of salt, then mash into a coarse paste using the flat portion of your chef’s knife.

2. In a large skillet with a lid, heat 3 tablespoons oil over medium. Cook the onions until golden, about 10 minutes. Add the ginger paste and cook, stirring, until fragrant, 3 to 4 minutes.

3. Stir in the tomato paste, coriander, cumin, chile powder and 1 1 / 4teaspoons salt. Stir in the cauliflower and coconut milk and bring to a simmer. Reduce the heat to low, cover and cook until the cauliflower is tender, 10 to 12 minutes.

4. Meanwhile, heat the remaining 1 tablespoon oil in a small skillet over medium. Fry the cashews, stirring occasionally, 2 minutes. Transfer to a plate to cool.

5. Add the peas and garam masala to the cauliflower mixture and cook, stirring, 5 minutes. Season to taste with salt.

6. Top the curry with the cashews, cilantro and a squeeze of lemon just before serving. Serve with a big steaming bowl of basmati rice.

Sumac-Scented Eggplant and Chickpeas

Yield: 6 servings

Total time: 45 minutes

Ingredients:

1 / 2cup olive oil

2 pounds firm Italian eggplant, cut into 1-inch cubes

Kosher salt and black pepper

1 (28-ounce) can crushed tomatoes

1 tablespoon ground sumac

2 garlic cloves, peeled and chopped

2 tablespoons pomegranate molasses, plus more to taste

1 (14-ounce) can chickpeas, drained

4 scallions, trimmed and sliced

1 / 2cup chopped fresh mint or cilantro

Cooked white rice, for serving

1 / 2cup Greek yogurt, for serving

Toasted pita, for serving (optional)

Preparation:

1. In a deep, wide skillet, heat 1 / 4cup olive oil over medium-high until shimmering. Add half the eggplant, season with salt and pepper and cook, stirring occasionally, until tender and browned all over, about 8 minutes. Transfer the eggplant to a large baking sheet to cool and repeat with the remaining olive oil and eggplant. Transfer to the baking sheet.

2. Add the tomatoes, sumac, garlic and 2 tablespoons pomegranate molasses to the skillet. Season with salt and pepper and simmer over medium-low until thickened, about 15 minutes.

3. Stir in the chickpeas, half the scallions, half the mint and 1 / 4cup water. Let simmer until flavors meld, about 2 minutes. Taste and adjust the seasoning, adding more pomegranate molasses if you like. The eggplant mixture should be a little textural, chunky even, with an assertive, tangy finish.

4. Divide the rice and eggplant mixture among wide, shallow bowls. Dollop with yogurt, sprinkle with the remaining scallions and mint, and serve with pita, if using.

Weeknight Lemon Chicken Breasts With Herbs

Yield: 4 servings

Total time: 20 minutes, plus at least 1 hour marinating

Ingredients:

4 medium boneless, skinless chicken breasts (about 8 ounces each)

1 1 / 2teaspoons kosher salt

1 1 / 4teaspoons ground black pepper

1 / 2cup olive oil, plus 2 tablespoons

1 lemon, thinly sliced into rounds, seeds discarded

1 / 4cup dry white wine

3 garlic cloves, smashed

1 tablespoon dried herbes de Provence, or 3 tablespoons chopped fresh herbs, such as sage, rosemary and thyme

Preparation:

1. Season the chicken breasts all over with the salt and pepper. Transfer the chicken to a gallon-size resealable freezer bag. Add 1 / 2cup olive oil and the remaining ingredients, press out the air and seal the bag tightly so the chicken is fully submerged. Massage the chicken through the plastic bag to evenly distribute the herbs. Let marinate in the refrigerator for 1 hour or up to 8 hours.

2. In a large, deep skillet with a lid, heat the remaining 2 tablespoons olive oil over medium. Remove the chicken from the marinade, add to the skillet, then pour the lemons and marinade on top. Cook until the chicken is golden on one side, about 8 minutes. Turn the chicken, cover and cook over medium-low until chicken is cooked through, about 7 minutes. Serve chicken topped with lemons and sauce.

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