“Did you put apples in that?”
“Yes, the image on the box has a picture of an apple, so I figured I would put some of it in the curry.”
“Wait, is that a pear you just put in, too?”
“I had an extra Asian pear lying around and thought it would be a good idea.”
This is how my mom cooks. She is always inspired by whatever seems logical to her at the time, and then it is a crapshoot as to how the dish actually tastes. The above conversation took place while she was cooking Japanese curry. Our Japanese curry always came from a pre-packaged spice mix. It was the additional ingredients that made it my Mom’s “special recipe.” To me, she was the original Sandra Lee (but Taiwanese and less intense when it came to “tablescapes”).
“I think you put too many apples in this, I can’t tell if I’m eating a potato or an apple. Wait, is this a salted plum?”
My mom’s cooking style is an adventure and a journey. She starts at a certain idea, picks up characters and ingredients along the way, and finishes with a complete story with a happy ending. I’ve learned to appreciate her creative focus and now use it myself when I come up with the recipes for this blog. This in-the-moment creativity that defines my mother and my own cooking style is one of the things that my brother always criticizes me for.
For him, if it’s the first time that he is cooking a dish for friends or family, he will research a recipe and measure everything out with precision. It makes sense. Me, however, I will look at a recipe or two for inspiration and ideas. I then grab ingredients that I think would taste good and run with it. My brother gives me crap for it all the time, until he takes his first bite. The complaining then ceases.
I’m glad my mom taught me how to cook. I credit my creativity to her. If there was an ingredient she liked, something she wanted to try, or a dish she enjoyed from a meal out with the family, she would attempt making it at home. Even today, she’ll still call me to chat about a dish she just made and how proud she is of the final outcome. She’ll go into detail about it and I’m usually caught off guard from one or two ingredients. But in the end, she is happy with result and it sounds like it would work.
I now make my Japanese curry with apples in it. It gives it a subtle, sweet flavor without tasting too sweet. The blend of spice and smoke go well with the apple. But, you won’t see me putting a salted plum or pear in it.
Notes on the dish: This is Japanese curry or “Kare”. It was introduced to Japan by the British because of their colonial rule over India. It’s much milder compared to Indian curry, and delicious with rice. I made this from scratch, but you can make it with pre-packaged Kare. I like both versions of the curry. It’s kind of how I feel about homemade mac and cheese and the Kraft version. Sometimes the packaged stuff is just as good in its own way.
2 tbs butter
1 tbs garam masala or a milder curry powder (if you want less hot)
1 tsp tumeric
1 tsp garlic powder
2 tsp cumin
2 tsp coriander
1 tsp fresh ginger, minced
1 c onion, chopped
1 lb ground meat of your choice
1/2 c carrot, chopped
1 c vegetables, chopped (mix it up with squash, celery, chayote…)
1 medium potato, chopped
1 medium apple, chopped
1 c broth, vegetable or meat
½ c water
salt to taste
heat butter with curry powder, tumeric, garlic powder, cumin, and coriander and slightly toast the spices on high heat
add onion, ginger, and meat and stir until cooked through
stir in all the vegetables and fruit, add broth and water, and turn heat down to medium heat
simmer on medium heat until fully incorporated and curry begins to thicken, about 30 to 45 minutes
season to taste and serve over rice