Saturday, 17 November 2012

Sweet Dreams Coconut, Kale and Squash Stew

Sweet Dreams Coconut, Kale and Squash Stew

Back at the turn of the last century, my grandmother was shocked by pounding on her door.  Mounties! (That’s Royal Canadian Mounted Police, if you don’t know.)  Not only did she have Mounties at her front door, but in her garden as well, madly pulling plants.  While they didn’t charge her with a crime, they left her with a warning.  Growing white poppies in Canada is strictly illegal.  Ever since I’ve had a terror of the white poppy, and assumed they were unavailable here in modern times.
Yet, they are a common ingredient in Indian cuisine, and in fact, the seed of the white poppy is readily available here.  I suspect you’d have to buy tons of it to turn it into a controlled substance, but it does work nicely as a flavourful thickener in a stew.  As far as sweet dreams are concerned, I may float about remembering the deliciousness of this vegan stew, but that’s probably all.

Because a blender is used for the beginning of this recipe, the first set of vegetables can be roughly chopped. 
1 heaping tablespoon white poppy seed
¼ cup water

1 teaspoon black peppercorns
½ teaspoon fenugreek seed
1 cinnamon stick
1 teaspoon cumin seed
½ teaspoon black cumin seed
4 cloves
2 black cardamom, husked
1 tablespoon coriander seed
½ teaspoon fennel
1 flake mace
1 teaspoon turmeric powder
Actually, I forgot to grind the seeds on time!
11/2 inches fresh gingerroot
5 fresh garlic cloves
2 large tomatoes, chopped
1 red onion, chopped
4 to 8 Thai chillies

1 tablespoon mustard oil
½ teaspoon cumin seed
½ teaspoon dark mustard seed

1 leek, finely sliced
2 potatoes, cubed
1 bunch (about 7 leaves kale) rib removed and leaves torn to bits
1 butternut squash, peeled, seeded and cubed
1 tin coconut milk (400 mls)
a splash of water (less than ¼ cup)

1 cup frozen peas
lime wedges
cilantro (optional)

Soak the poppy seed in water for at least an hour.  (I used the blender for soaking, later when the hour was up, I buzzed it to grind the seeds.)
While the seeds soak, prepare the spices by putting all of them except the turmeric into the large non-stick pot to be used for the stew.  Turn the heat to medium high, and shake the pot from time to time, till a bit of smoke wafts and the spices become fragrant.  Pluck out the cinnamon stick then brush the spices into a grinder, along with the turmeric.  Grind it to a powder and set aside.

Add the ginger, garlic, tomatoes, onion and chillies to the poppy seed paste and purée.  Set aside.
Put the cinnamon back into the stew pot and add the mustard oil.  With the heat on medium high, toss in a few mustard seeds, and when they splutter, add them all, along with the cumin seeds.  Turn the heat to medium and stir in the leeks, and cook for about five minutes. 

With the pot lid handy, quickly pour in the tomato mixture and cover the pot.  Don’t worry yet about getting every last drop of tomato mixture.  As soon as you pour it in, it will turn to lava, so work fast!  After about ten minutes, the lava will have settled down, so you can safely lift the lid.  Stir and check for moisture content.  Keeping the lid off, watch for the moisture to dissipate, stirring often.  When the tomato mixture starts to separate a bit from the oil, in about ten minutes, add the ground spices.  Cook for about five minutes, stirring often. 

Add the potatoes, kale and coconut milk.  Add a bit of water to the blender and buzz to get the last bits of tomato mixture and add that. Cover and cook about ten minutes. Add the squash and cook for another ten to fifteen minutes, or until the vegetables are all tender.  Add the peas in the last five minutes, and continue cooking till they’re warmed through.  Squeeze a wedge of lime over every serving, and garnish with cilantro, if you have it.
This vegan stew is dreamily delicious, but I doubt it will give you any genuine opium dreams.  And if you see white poppies wafting around in your neighbor’s gardens, don’t get too excited.  The seeds are easily purchased  and people grow the flowers without disturbance.

I served this with lacha paratha, the roti equivalent of croissants.  Of course those were store bought… Probably pretty heavy on the butter too, wrecking the vegan aspect of this meal, of course.  But you can serve this with rice, or rotis made with oil.  Let me know which you think is best!


  1. Delicious!! Love using poppy seeds in cooking - they are perfect in winter. Try my bitter gourd in poppy seeds recipe!!

  2. Hi Apu,

    I just took a look at your recipe, and it looks so simple and delicious. I'll have to keep my eyes open for bitter gourd. Thanks for visiting my blog.