Photos by 
Jessicarobyn Keyser
Jessicarobyn Keyser

I Make This Curry in a Wok Because I Just Had to Have a Wok

by 
Julie Laing
March 10, 2022

Many rites of passage on the path to adulthood happen in the kitchen: When you’re trusted to set the table with Grandma’s china. When a parent promotes you from dishwasher to sous chef. When you mix the cookie dough yourself before you lick the bowl. The first meal you cook without adult help. That inaugural solo grocery store trip to stock your refrigerator. And, the day you unpack your first cookware collection.

Having a matching collection of pots, pans, and lids felt like a milestone on the journey to becoming an adult, but my naivete showed when I bought my first cookware set. Several pieces were much too large to store in my tiny kitchen’s cupboards. Some barely fit in the sink for cleanup. I suddenly found myself standing in my San Francisco studio apartment wondering where I would store a stockpot, 5-quart sauté pan, and several saucepans and skillets – not to mention all their lids.

I emptied cupboards, piled pans and lids in various configurations, rearranged and restacked until everything found its home – almost. Because I just had to have a wok, too. The one that came with my chosen cookware set had a long saucepan-like handle on one side, ensuring it would refuse to fit in any cabinet. In the end, I stored it atop a bookcase where the kitchen transitioned to sleeping space.

That wok has become one of my favorite pans. Its hard-anodized surface quickly sears stir-fried vegetables, and its funnel-like shape keeps oil from splattering across the stove’s surface. Its bowl holds a pound of noodles for pad thai or a mound of potatoes for the curry recipe I share here. Even as I toss ingredients together, they land cleanly back in the pan’s wide basin.

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When I make this wintertime curry in my wok, the blooming spices immediately fill the room with their cozy scent. The flavorful curry blend, thick potato base, and hearty mushrooms support the lightly cooked spinach. It almost melts into the other vegetables, and its bright flash of green provides a welcome contrast to the dish’s otherwise neutral color. It’s filling comfort food for any chilly night.

I love that my wok lets me make a large batch of this one-dish meal because the leftovers are as delicious as the first serving. The combination of sliced and cubed potatoes adds texture and holds up well even upon reheating. The yogurt enhances the creaminess but also balances the curry’s heat – which may be important depending on the blend you choose.

Curry powders range widely in flavor and heat, and blooming the ground spices in oil before adding the vegetables releases their flavor compounds. The superior taste produced by this trick can also make a spicy curry powder hotter. I serve the dish straight from the wok, with sides of extra yogurt and paneer, a mellow cheese that won’t melt when heated, for those who want to temper the spiciness.

The wok I use today is still that awkward, oversized one from my first cookware set. Although I’ve left that San Francisco studio apartment behind, storing that wok hasn’t gotten any easier: My current home is a 500-square-foot log cabin. When my husband built shelves in the mudroom to contain my kitchen overflow, I made sure they were deep enough to hold the wok.

Spinach, Potato, and Mushroom Curry

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Serves 4-6

Ingredients

3 tbsp sunflower oil

1-1/2 tbsp curry powder, or to taste

9 medium scrubbed potatoes, half sliced and half cubed

1 medium onion, chopped

1 tsp sea salt

1 cup water

8 oz cremini mushrooms, sliced

1 5-oz package ofFifth Season spinach

1/2 cup plain yogurt, plus more for serving

Optional: 1/2 cup crumbled paneer for serving

 | 
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Serves 4-6

Ingredients

3 tbsp sunflower oil

1-1/2 tbsp curry powder, or to taste

9 medium scrubbed potatoes, half sliced and half cubed

1 medium onion, chopped

1 tsp sea salt

1 cup water

8 oz cremini mushrooms, sliced

1 5-oz package ofFifth Season spinach

1/2 cup plain yogurt, plus more for serving

Optional: 1/2 cup crumbled paneer for serving

Ingredients

3 tbsp sunflower oil

1-1/2 tbsp curry powder, or to taste

9 medium scrubbed potatoes, half sliced and half cubed

1 medium onion, chopped

1 tsp sea salt

1 cup water

8 oz cremini mushrooms, sliced

1 5-oz package ofFifth Season spinach

1/2 cup plain yogurt, plus more for serving

Optional: 1/2 cup crumbled paneer for serving

Directions

1. In a wok or very large sauté pan, heat the oil over medium-low heat. When it sizzles from a drop of water, stir in the curry powder and cook for about 1 minute, until fragrant. Add the potatoes, onions, mushrooms, and salt, stirring until the spices coat the vegetables.

2. Stir in the water, and then cover the pan. Let the vegetables simmer for 15–20 minutes, until they soften. Stir occasionally, adding more water if the potatoes begin to stick to the pan.

3. When the potatoes are fork-tender, stir in the spinach until wilted. Mix in the yogurt, adding more as needed until the curry is slightly saucy. Serve with additional yogurt and/or paneer.

About the Author

Julie Laing

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