Honestly, I still don’t know how I got dinner on the table in 20 minutes last night. Without ordering in! Dinner from scratch! Yes, I took a couple of shortcuts, like having pre-cut onion and store-bought naan in the fridge. But other than that, this was absolutely a homemade dinner from scratch. Because I’ve been fighting bronchitis, I wasn’t very organized with my groceries or meal planning this week. The day began with a parent-teacher conference first thing in the morning at daycare in Harlem, followed by dashing to work in a taxi down Park Avenue, attending back-to-back meetings, and then barely getting back up to daycare in time because the traffic in midtown Manhattan was so jam-packed near the Rockefeller Center Christmas tree. Between the building boom, record tourism, security near Trump Tower and the holiday season around Saks Fifth Avenue and Rockefeller Center, my daily commute is nuts.
As I entered our apartment at 6:20 p.m. my 3-year old was imploring “I’m so hungry, Mommy!” and I knew I had to move fast. I settled Liam down with some apple slices and cheese, and became a ninja. I didn’t stop once and dinner was on the table by 6:47 p.m. In the midst of it all, Sean walked in from work, took one look at me quizzically, wondering why I had become a small tornado, and then shook his head laughing. Whenever I’m sick or feeling under the weather, I don’t feel like ordering in or picking up take out. I want something homemade. And boy, was it worth it. As we all sat down to plump black-eyed peas robed in a hearty curry of tomatoes, onion, ginger, and garlic, with warm, soft naan, and freshly steamed basmati rice, it was the most satisfying thing ever.
The Grand Plan: Getting dinner on the table in 20 minutes
When I was at the corner store recently, I picked up a large can of black-eyed peas just for a day like this. This is the trick folks, to getting dinner on the table in less than 20 minutes. If you pick up a 15 oz or 28 oz can of chick peas, kidney beans, or black-eyed peas, you can whip up a curry in no time.
Plus, I often buy pre-cut veggies from FreshDirect, which is the main way I grocery shop, through weekly online delivery. It’s essential to full-time working parents in Manhattan. I often add items like pre-cut onions, peeled garlic cloves, and pre-cut veggies like “Asian veggies for stir-fry” or “mirepoix” so I have pre-chopped onion, carrots, and celery to quickly create a base for spaghetti sauces and soups. It might cost marginally more, but it’s well worth the money, in my view.
So what did I do exactly, to get dinner on the table in 20 minutes?
Step 1. Put on the rice
I don’t have a rice cooker, so I make it the old-fashioned way, on the stovetop. Not that I’m against it, in fact, I’ve been meaning to add a small rice cooker to my Amazon cart. Interestingly, my friend Colleen says that even though she uses a rice cooker, she thinks rice just tastes better when made on the stovetop. Steaming white basmati rice with water and a bit of salt takes about 20 minutes, so I put that on first. I have a certain technique when it comes to making rice perfectly every time, which is foolproof for anyone who has struggled with making rice.
Step 2. Make the Black-eyed Peas Curry, also known as lobia masala
Making a simple curry that is fast and authentic requires as few as 10 ingredients, half of which you probably already have in your own kitchen. You begin heating a few cumin seeds and crushed red chill flakes in some vegetable oil. Then you add chopped onion, garlic, and ginger root. You sauté this until it’s glassy and then add spices and some tomato paste. Drain the canned beans, add them to the pan, along with some cool water, bring the whole thing to a boil, and simmer for no more than 5-10 minutes flat. The full recipe is below.
Step 3. Always keep store-bought flatbread handy in your kitchen
Whether it’s a package of flour tortillas, whole wheat pita, or multigrain naan, even small corner stores have some kind of flatbread these days. Some keep well in the fridge, while others are meant to be frozen and defrosted. I always keep a package of tortillas or pre-made naan on hand for crazy weeknights. They take under a minute to heat up in a microwave or toaster oven.
In this case, I pulled out this ‘ancient grain’ mini naan, which was perfect for 2 adults and 1 hungry little boy. I preheated my toaster oven to 350F while the curry was simmering and the rice was steaming, and after roasting the naan for 30 seconds on each side until they were nice and hot, I spread some salted butter across each one, and took the lot to the table. There is nothing quite like scooping up curry and rice with a warm piece of naan. Nothing.
Black-Eyed Peas Curry (Lobia Masala)
- 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
- 1 teaspoon cumin seeds
- 1/4 teaspoon crushed red chilli pepper (or to taste)
- 1 onion, chopped
- 4-5 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
- 1/2-inch piece of fresh ginger root, peeled and finely chopped
- 4 tablespoons tomato paste
- 2 teaspoons ground coriander powder
- 1/2 teaspoon turmeric powder
- 1/2 teaspoon garam masala powder
- 1-2 teaspoons salt
- 28 oz can of black-eyed peas, drained and rinsed
- 14 oz of water (I just rinse out the can and fill it halfway with water)
- Fresh cilantro, finely chopped (I forgot this completely)
- In a medium-sized skillet or saucepan, heat oil over medium-high flame along with cumin seeds and crushed red chilli pepper. Once you see the seeds and peppers begin to move a little, add onion, garlic, and ginger. Sauté for 5-8 minutes until golden and glassy. If you see the cumin seeds are darkening too fast, reduce the heat slightly.
- Add tomato paste, spices, and salt, and combine well. Make sure you watch the flame so the tomato paste doesn’t burn.
- Add the drained black-eyed peas and water. Bring to a boil and simmer gently on low for 5-10 minutes. Adjust for salt and red chilli pepper, to taste.