Cooking without a recipe: Inauthentic Indian

Did you think the blog relaunch was going to be all thoughtfulness and book reviews? No, my friends, no. In the spirit of the “capacious hold-all” mentioned in my beloved Virginia Woolf quote (see my blog header) I will be including all the odds and ends of my life. And I love to cook.

I use recipes when I cook only perhaps 25% of the time. The remainder of the time I get an idea (often inspired by what I have on hand, or a recipe in one of my [many] cookbooks) and go from there.

I know that when I started cooking, the idea that it could be easy, intuitive, was awe-inspiring to me. I don't think I would have realized how relaxed and extemporaneous cooking could be if I hadn't had one friend who cooked like that — without a book, without worries, without a 'net' of any kind. And she cooked the most delicious food.

I would now like to be that friend to you, my blog reader. You, too, can cook without recipes. I am going to try and share my thought processes with you.

This dinner started with a partial can of Teeny Tiny Spice Company Vindaloo and unused farmshare potatoes and onions sprouting away in my cupboard.

I don't know much about this company other than that they are from my state (Vermont) and they make some delicious blends. I usually spice my own sauce (so to speak) but I thought these looked good so I bought a few to try. They are great!

Sauteeing an onion is where I start a lot of sishes — soups, curries, casseroles, etc. So I diced an onion and put it in the skillet with a generous amount of olive oil and butter. I put in a few spoonfuls of spice mix, and gently cooked the onion and spices together until the onion was translucent and I figured that the flavor of the spices had “bloomed” into the oil. That's a basic cooking premise: you put the spices in with the oil to get the most out of them. This comes up again and again in cooking of all sorts.

I cubed two smallish red potatoes and threw those in the skillet. I opened a can of chickpeas, rinsed the peas, and threw those in the skillet, too. 

Here I would like to interrupt your regularly scheduled cooking blogpost to share with you my very favorite half-naked cowboy oven mitt. I found this for about $1 on deep discount lo, these many years ago. I love it. I use it not only as an oven mitt but for handling my cast-iron skillet. Onwards!

I opened a can of diced tomatoes, drained off most of the juice, and poured the tomatoes again. I simmered gently for a few minutes until the tomatoes had passed through the even-juicier stage and into the thickening-nicely stage, then tasted for seasoning. Unless I am making soup, I always drain canned diced tomatoes thoroughly. They release a huge amount of liquid even drained. Sometimes I drain them for soup,, too, if I don't want quite that much tomatoeyness in my life.

I tasted, and decided that the whole was too acidic, too tart. Basic cooking principle: creamy fatty things counterbalance acidic things.  I wanted cream — we didn't have cream. I considered sour cream — we were out. I contemplated yogurt — decided I didn't want the sour tang. I had a sudden inspiration — coconut milk! — but we didn't have any of that either. (Plain milk would have watered it down too much.)

So I opened a can of evaporated milk (so useful to keep on hand) and added it in increments, tasting at every step. I ended up using the whole can.

I tasted for seasoning again. It was delicious. The spice mix I used already contained salt, or I would have added salt at this time. 

At this moment I realized I had forgotten to put rice on. I rolled my eyes at myself, put the rice in the rice cooker, and mixed myself a drink:

This is a Negroni. It is a classic cocktail, and it is one of my favorites, but it is not for the faint of heart. It is very campari-forward. Campari is a bright red and unapologetically bitter liqueur. If you like black coffee, you will probably like Campari. 

When the rice was done, we ate. I considered throwing together a side salad, and if I'd really been on my A-game I would have made some naan (or other flatbread) to go alongside as well — but I am not that awesome. I was pretty happy with just my no-recipe, inauthentic-Indian curry and my Negroni. 

And you can be happy too, but I will provide recipes!

Inauthentic Vindaloo


About 3 tbl of a Vindaloo spice blend (homemade or boughten)
1 medium onion
olive oil and/or butter, about 2 tbl each
2 medium potatoes
1 14oz can of chickpeas
1 28oz can of diced tomatoes
Cream, yogurt, evaporated milk, or coconut milk, to taste

Roughly dice onion. Gently saute (over low heat) in about 2 tbl each olive oil and butter, until the onion is translucent. 

Add the spices. Continue to gently saute until they are fragrant. 

While the above are cooking, cube the potato into a size you would like to find on your fork. Rinse off the canned chickpeas.

When the onion and spices smell done, add the potato and the chickpeas. Add, perhaps, a little more fat. Everything should be gently sizzling, but not sticking or burning.

Stir until potatoes and chickpeas are well-coated in spices and fat. 

Drain a 28oz can of diced tomatoes. Add this to the skillet. Stir. Let simmer. The tomatoes will release further juices, creating a juicy mess, but as it simmers the curry will thicken again. Wait patiently. 

Taste for acidity. Add cream (ideally), or yogurt, or evaporated milk, or coconut milk, to taste. Add salt to taste. 

Serve over rice, with or without salad or naan, but ideally with:


Combine equal parts gin, campari, and sweet vermouth in a cocktail shaker with a generous amount of ice. Amounts depend on enthusiasm for drinking. 

Shake vigorously. Strain into cocktail glass. Either top with soda water or add a few ice cubes to mellow the flavor.