It's fall, and each day is colder than the one before. Time for something comforting. Curry, its rivers of sauce, warm and spicy, soaking into a plate of hot white rice. I have chunks of chicken, diced onions, halved mushrooms, cubes of potatoes, and baby carrots; the curry sauce comes in bricks of dense paste that dissolve in boiling water and thicken into the sauce that stains everything it touches a brilliant gold. This is a Japanese curry sauce, the kind we always made when we were in college, my roomates and I chopping vegetables and meat in the inadequate kitchen, cooking everything together in a deep, lidded sauté pan (sometimes called a chicken fryer), while the rice cooker steamed furiously on its little table in our living room.
When I was growing up my mom often made curry with beef short ribs in a soupy broth, with carrots and mushrooms and potatoes (I may be imagining the mushrooms, because I put them in everything). Everything was simmered until the meat fell off the bone and the vegetables melted into the sauce. I rarely ate more than half a bowl of rice at dinner, but when it was curry I would eat more than usual, the clean white taste of the rice blunting the fire of the curry. Once in a while we would make curried beef turnovers, a bit like empanadas. Biscuit dough (the kind that pops out in perfectly formed circles from a cardboard tube that exploded as you unwrapped it, always fun) was rolled out and stuffed with sautéed beef and onions seasoned with curry powder. (You could make these with puff pastry, or pie dough, but those Pillsbury biscuits work just fine).
There have been Indian curries in restaurants that left you reeking of spices, served over fluffy rice that almost seemed to float from the plate, each long, fragrant grain weightless and separate from its neighbor, unlike the sticky medium-grain rice we ate at home, piles of puffy naan bread to dip in the golden sauce. Southeast Asian curries, Thai and Indonesian and so forth, hot and red, hot and green, or hot and sweet and creamy with coconut milk, all over that jasmine-scented rice that was, again, completely different from what we had at home. When I am tired, or down, or in need of comfort that cannot be given by mashed potatoes and gravy, I turn to curry, which is the Asian equivalent of meatloaf and vegetables and mashed potatoes and gravy, now that I think of it. There is meat - diced chicken or beef or lamb or fish - there are vegetables - onions and carrots and potatoes and perhaps cauliflower or mushrooms, whatever you can think of - there is sauce - which is like gravy, and there is rice, which sops up the sauce much as mashed potatoes soak up gravy. What could be better?
Fall is here and winter is fast approaching. The weather is perfect for curling up with a plate of rice lavished with a pile of chicken curry, steaming hot and spicy, the smell hanging softly in the air like the memory of past meals shared with friends.