The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

January 30, 2013

Blended spice heats up kitchen on a cold winter day

By Andra Bryan Stefanoni

JOPLIN, Mo. — I have a serious addiction to spices. I can’t pick a favorite — I think they’re all good. My biggest moment of spice utopia happened when I discovered a vendor selling them by weight on a table full of sacks at a Kansas City farmers market. I lingered nearby as long as I could, breathing in the perfume of nutmeg, cumin, coriander and mint.

It’s not uncommon for members of my family to observe me pausing while cooking, with the spice jar to my nose and a smile on my face. Hey, if I’m going to open the refrigerator door to grab the jug of milk, then I might as well grab the tube of freshly minced ginger to get a fix.

But nothing, nothing, nothing beats the smell and flavor of curry powder, particularly on a cold winter day. The subtle heat starts at the back of your throat and envelops you in a blanket of goodness. Perhaps I love it because it’s actually a blend of numerous spices, rather than just one.

My favorite two partners to curry powder are coconut milk, which serves as a cooling, creamy counterpart, and ginger, which adds depth of flavor and additional heat.

Savory soups Filled with flavor

Two soups that use all three ingredients are among my go-to dishes for wintertime fare. Both also incorporate vegetables and legumes that are challenging to present to my family in any other form.

The first, a curried butternut squash soup, stars readily available squash, which is an excellent source of fiber, vitamins A, C and E, magnesium, manganese and potassium.

The hardest part of preparing the soup is removing the tough skin of the squash. I mastered it by trial and error and learned to first cut the squash in half to separate the “neck” from the “bottom.” This provides a flat surface on each section to place on my cutting board. Using a sharp knife and keeping fingers well out of harm’s way, slice off the skin in strips starting at the top and slicing down.

Use a spoon to scoop out the seeds — which are edible, either raw or roasted — as you would from a pumpkin. The recipe calls for 4 cups of squash, but it’s difficult to gauge just how much I’ll get from a particular squash, so if I have extra, I cut it into chunks and freeze it in a sealable bag for future use.

I also save time and waste by keeping a tube of fresh minced ginger paste in the refrigerator. Fresh cilantro is the final must-have to both stir in and garnish the dish.

The second soup, a chicken curry with spinach and chickpeas, also features curry and ginger. The garbanzo bean is a legume that’s a great source of zinc and protein. It’s low in fat and is often called a chickpea. Archaeological remains indicate they were around in the Middle East as early as 7,500 years ago.

My trick to making this soup on a busy weeknight is grabbing a rotisserie chicken after work and, again, relying on that tube of fresh minced ginger paste. It can be found in the produce section at most grocery stores under the label “gourmet garden.”

Curried butternut squash soup

1 medium onion, chopped (about 1⁄2 cup)

3 tablespoons butter

2 teaspoons red curry powder

2 teaspoons fresh ginger

1⁄2 teaspoon salt

1 (14-ounce) can reduced-sodium chicken broth

11⁄4 cup water

11⁄2 pounds butternut squash, peeled, seeded and cut into 1-inch cubes (4 cups)

1 (14-ounce) can coconut milk

1⁄2 cup half-and-half (or 2 percent milk, if you prefer)

1⁄3 cup chopped fresh cilantro

In a Dutch oven or soup pot, cook onion in hot butter over medium heat until tender and translucent. Stir in curry powder, ginger and salt. Cook 30 seconds.

Stir in chicken broth and water; bring to boil. Add squash. Return to boil; reduce heat. Simmer, covered, about 30 minutes or until squash is tender.

Cool soup slightly. Transfer half the soup at a time to a blender or food processor, or use an immersion blender. Blend or process until smooth. Return all soup to saucepan. Stir in coconut milk, half-and-half or milk, and chopped cilantro. Heat through. Top with fresh cilantro if you wish. Makes about 6 servings.

Source: Better Homes and Gardens

Chicken curry with spinach and chickpeas

2 tablespoons peanut or vegetable oil

1 large onion, chopped (about 1 cup)

1 tablespoon minced fresh ginger

1 clove garlic, minced

1 tablespoon red curry powder, or more to taste

1 (14.5-ounce) can petite diced tomatoes, fire roasted if available

1 cup unsweetened coconut milk

1 (9-ounce) package fresh baby spinach

2 cups shredded cooked chicken

1 cup chickpeas, drained

Heat oil in a Dutch oven or soup pot over medium heat. Add onions and pinch of salt and cook until translucent, about 8 minutes. Add ginger and garlic and cook for 2 minutes while stirring. Add curry powder; stir and cook until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add the undrained tomatoes and coconut milk and bring to a boil; reduce heat. Simmer 8 to 10 minutes uncovered. Add the spinach, chicken and chickpeas and cook until the spinach is just wilted and the chicken and chickpeas are warm, about another 3 minutes. Season to taste with a pinch of kosher salt. Serve in a bowl or over jasmine rice, if desired. Makes about 6 servings.

Source: Parents Magazine

Address correspondence to Andra Bryan Stefanoni, c/o The Joplin Globe, P.O. Box 7, Joplin, MO 64802 or email

Classifying curry

Curry powder is not to be confused with the general term, “curry.” According to the book “Curry: A Global History,” writer Colleen Taylor Sen says the definition of “curry” is broad and can be applied to a range of foods and flavors that don’t necessarily include curry powder. Curry powder, on the other hand, is a mixture of spices of widely varying composition based on South Asian cuisine.

Blends can include coriander, turmeric, cumin, fenugreek, red pepper, ginger, garlic, fennel seed, caraway, cinnamon, clove, mustard seed, green cardamom, black cardamom, nutmeg and black pepper.