If you've been lucky enough to journey on a train in India, here's a treat you'll not just want to try, but one that you will crave for, deep inside your belly.
My Railway Mushroom Curry is a vegan spinoff of a meat-based dish that, the story goes, originated in the pantry cars of the Indian railways during the time the British occupied India.
This is not the railway food I've told you about in my Vegetable Puffs post, where vendors hop on and off railway cars as you journey through the country, offering you gorgeous, salt-of-the-earth foods from peanut brittle to dosas to biryani to tea served in earthen pots.
No, this mushroom curry is rather highfalutin.
The British brought the railways to India, and with it, they brought all of the trimmings, including those elegant pantry cars with shiny wood paneling, tables for four, gleaming crystal and dainty silverware.
The food served on those pantry cars was a mix of Indian and British fare with lots of fusion happening in between. Not just between Indian and British cuisine, but also between the various cuisines of India.
There is a lot of lore online about how the railway curry came to be, from chefs tamping down a hot mutton or goat curry they cooked for themselves to suit British tastes, to how the recipe changed with the route of the train. So if you were traveling in south India, you'd have a south Indian-flavored railway curry, if you were in north India, the ingredients would change accordingly, and so on.
Whatever the origin of this, what I love about this recipe, which I posted on this blog in its early days (I've updated it with new text and photos), is its simplicity and, of course, its deliciousness.
When I first made this curry, I adapted it heavily from a "Railway mutton curry" recipe I found on Sanjeev Kapoor's Web site. For those not familiar with Indian television chefs, Kapoor is India's first-- and perhaps one of its most successful-- ones (although full disclosure, I no longer know the first thing about Indian chefs and their levels of popularity).
I've heard Kapoor described as India's Rachel Ray for having spawned a food empire, but I don't think that does him any justice-- I think of him more as India's Julia Child, if you know what I mean. A trained chef, Kapoor comes up with some pretty great recipes. In fact, I can't think of a single recipe of his that I've tried and not liked.
The mushrooms, I think, do a great job subbing for the mutton (wouldn't you rather just cuddle the lamb?). It's a fabulous curry we make over and over at our home, and I hope it will become one of your favorites too. Serve it up and you would be the toast of the dinner table -- especially if it's accompanied by this 20-minute turmeric pilaf with pistachios and vegan cucumber raita.
How to make the best Mushroom Curry:
- It's not rocket science, in fact, this recipe is almost child's play. But make sure you follow the steps and let the curry cook for the full 20 minutes at the end to get the masala or spices thoroughly cooked.
- Add chopped green bell peppers along with the mushrooms for even more flavor and veggie nutrition.
- Add chickpeas to the recipe if you want an additional protein hit.
- Use the right ingredients, you don't need too much here, but the coriander, cumin and curry leaves are important for the right flavor. You'll notice there is no garam masala here, so you need those other spices to build the flavors.
Ingredients for Mushroom Curry:
- Coriander seeds: Coriander seeds have a flavor similar to that of cilantro or coriander leaves, only more lemony and concentrated. It is invaluable in curries like this one.
- Cumin seeds: Cumin seeds add a wonderful, earthy, robust flavor to curries.
- Oil: Use any flavorless vegetable oil, including avocado oil, peanut oil, safflower oil, sunflower oil or canola oil.
- Curry leaves: Curry leaves, which are bitter, pungent and lemony all at once, have a bold personality that works great in spicy curries. In this curry they add more freshness and terrific depth.
- Shallots: Shallots add both oniony flavor to this recipe and thicken the sauce.
- Garlic: For more flavor
- Potatoes: Use red or yellow potatoes. Mushrooms and potatoes are a great combination, and potatoes work especially well in spicy red curries like this one. They also help thicken the sauce.
- Mushrooms: Use any kind or combination of mushrooms here. Button and crimin are great, and so are portobello or shiitake mushrooms.
- Tomatoes: Tomatoes help create the strong flavor base for this curry and they add a touch of tanginess.
- Dry red chili peppers. Use Kashmiri red chili peppers or another mild to moderate pepper. An arbol can be used, but it's spicy, so you might want to cut down to one.
- Turmeric: For color and healthfulness.
- Vegetable stock: Try and use a good homemade stock or a low-sodium storebought one.
- Cilantro or coriander leaves for garnish
Looking for more Indian mushroom recipes?
Railway Mushroom Curry recipe:
Railway Mushroom Curry
- 1 tablespoon coriander seeds
- 1 teaspoon cumin seeds
- 1 tablespoon + ½ teaspoon avocado oil (or any vegetable oil)
- 15-20 curry leaves (about 2 sprigs)
- 2 shallots (thinly sliced)
- 4 cloves garlic (crushed and chopped)
- 2 moderately hot dry red chili peppers
- 4 medium potatoes , diced
- 8 oz crimini or baby bella or button mushrooms (quartered)
- ½ teaspoon turmeric
- 2 medium tomatoes (pureed)
- 2 ½ - 3 cups vegetable stock
- ¼ cup chopped coriander leaves (for garnish)
- In a dry, hot skillet, roast the coriander and cumin seeds. Place in a blender.
- Heat ½ teaspoon of oil in the skillet. Add the curry leaves, garlic, chili peppers and shallots and saute until brown spots appear on the onions. Add to the blender, add half a cup of vegetable stock, and blend into a very smooth paste.
- Heat the remaining 1 tablespoon oil in the skillet. Add the potatoes and stir-fry for five minutes until golden spots appear.
- Add the mushrooms and turmeric and saute until the mushrooms begin to soften, about 2-3 minutes.
- Now add the blended masala and the tomato puree. Cook for about five minutes, stirring frequently, then add 1 ½ cups of vegetable stock. Check seasoning and add more salt if needed.
- Cover and cook about 20 minutes or until the potatoes are tender. If your curry gets too thick, you can thin it out with more vegetable stock.
- Garnish with coriander leaves and serve hot.