Array of spices in homemade curry powder.
For the last couple of years, I’ve been visiting a wonderful organic farming program, located outside of Tokyo. Keisen Women’s University is one of the “YWCA” colleges, women’s colleges that boast a humanitarian agenda, and a curriculum that emphasizes peace studies and internationalism, a humanist vision of Christianity, and, most importantly, a four-year gardening curriculum. Here are a couple of photos I took in March of at harvest time, as both “eastern” spinach, which came by way of China, and “western” spinach, which came by way of the Jesuits and Nagasaki, were plucked out by student gardeners. The garden at Keisen was the first school garden to be certified organic in Japan, and routinely grows crops like sato-imo/taro, carrots, beans, and many many other things, all organically without pesticides.
Surrounded by spiky “eastern” spinach and the more familiar round “western” spinach.
“Eastern” spinach–look, it’s spiky!
Daikon, lettuce, spinaches from the Keisen garden.
Keisen also has a number of spinoff projects, including a CSA, a café, and most recently, a cookbook made up of recipes created by students, including exchange students from a long-running program in Thailand. I translated one of the most interesting recipes, one for Fukushima “solidarity” curry, cooked up by the students in garden director Sawanobori-sensei’s class. Sawanobori-sensei is an agronomist, and a real pioneer in this field in Japan. As I visited in March, she was about to run off to Korea with the college president on an exchange visit, and was busily teaching the first of three seasons in a sequences of urban ag courses like our Master Gardener course. You can buy the original cookbook here.
Japanese curry came in to the country thanks to the British colonial diaspora. My friends and I used to call it “jelly curry,” because the consistency is a bit more viscous than a coconut milk-based or broth-based curry, it’s actually made with the flour thickener, roux. You can buy it in chunky blocks in grocery stores, but many people customize their curry, by mixing and matching blocks, adding pepper or fruit, jam or raisins, all over rice. The Keisen organic café recipe is on the far artisanal end of the spectrum, since it involves making curry powder, a spice blend, before making the curry base; and in turn, making the curry base before the dish itself.
Recipe background, from the Keisen Organic Café Cookbook:
This recipe was inspired by the desire to support organic farmers of Fukushima whose lives were uprooted by the disaster at the Fukushima nuclear reactor.
In the phase after the reaction but before testing had begun on the effects of radiation contamination, all you heard about Fukushima was rumors, and the fear had an effect even on produce that had been harvested before the reactor spill. In May 2011, volunteers at Keisen decided to host an event, “Thinking of Fukushima @ Keisen,” featuring a special curry recipe that used rice and potatoes like yama-imo that had been harvested at Fukushima the previous year. When the festival was over, the student-run organic campus café kept the curry dish on its menu, and both used and sold vegetables from Fukushima that showed no radioactivity. The curry is now a staple on the café menu.
The really vital thing about this curry is its variety of spices. It’s easy to use store-bought pre-mixed curry, but we decided to make our own spice mix. For the spices, we reached out to student in Chiang Mai, where we have a long-standing relationship with Chiang Mai University as part of our Field Station program. Every year from August to December 10 students participate in this experiential education program, where they work alongside NGO staff, organic farmers, and farmers from hill villages. The students wanted to source their spices directly from the farmers, and this “Keisen original fair-trade spice” blend became part of that long-held dream.
The campus organic café is a student-run space that is planned to develop into a local community center. The curry offering will join a menu and a line of products that the face sells that supports its fair-trade mission—joining a product line that includes coffee, olive oil, muscavado sugar, salt, Japanese-grown green and black teas, and jam.
Graduates of these programs have gone on to work as farmers and work in organic agriculture. Our work with organic farming continues, forging ways for anyone to have a rewarding and healthy life and thrive in a society that supports it.
Fukushima Solidarity Curry
½ medium onion (100g)
1 turnip (100g)
kabocha or other squash (30g)
½ carrot (100g)
½ bunch broccoli (50g)
*any combination of veggies, including sato-imo/taro, potato, eggplant, etc. will do—it should amount to about 150 g per person.
2 cups+ curry base
½ knob ginger minced (5 g)
½ knob ginger grated (5 g)
minced garlic (10 g)
1 T olive oil
1 T salt (+ salt for blanching greens and broccoli in step 2)
pepper, to taste
1-2 t garam masala
300 g brown rice
1. Take leaves off turnips. Keeping turnip greens separate, cut onions, peeled turnips and carrots into chunks 3cm at their longest point by turning the veggies as you cut (this is called rangiri in Japanese).
2. Cut the broccoli into easy-to-eat sized pieces, including the stems, and add the stems to the turnip greens. Blanche in salt water.
3. Fry the garlic and minced ginger with the olive oil and onion.
4. Add the kabocha, carrots and turnips in that order, salt and pepper, and cook until still firm but cooked (and maybe a bit browned, for flavor).
5. Add the curry paste to the cooked veggies from 4, with a cup of water. Add a bit more water, if necessary, as you bring it to a boil for about 5 minutes.
6. When the sauce has thickened, add the garam masala and minced ginger, to taste.
7. Add the broccoli and turnip greens, and serve.
Curry base recipe—serves about 8 portions, at 1 c each:
4 medium onions (800 g)
4 t whole cumin (8 g)
knob of ginger (60 g) minced
6 cloves of garlic (60 g) minced
3 T homemade curry (35 g; recipe below)
10 T rhubarb jam (* or other tart jam)
400 g canned tomatoes
4 bay leaves
1 grated apple (300 g)
1 grated carrot (200 g)
1 T salt
2 t miso
5 c (1000 ml) water
pepper, to taste
6 T olive oil
1. Mince the onions.
2. In a frying pan, add cumin, ginger and garlic to the olive oil, on high heat until a scent arises, being careful not to burn the spices.
3. Add with the salt to the minced onions and cook until caramelized (* you may want to add water and deglaze at some point).
4. Add the homemade curry powder, and mix in with 3 or 4 additions of the water.
5. Add the rhubarb jam, tomatoes and bay leaves. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and cook.
6. At the end, add the grated apple and carrot, miso, and salt and pepper to taste.
Homemade curry powder—makes about 20 portions of 88 g each
3 T turmeric (24 g)
3 T coriander (15 g)
1 T fennel seed (5 g)
2 t cinnamon (4 g)
2 t allspice (3 g)
1 t (3 g ) each of fenugreek, cloves, nutmeg
1 ½ (2 g) each of dill, cardamom, sage, oregano
1 t (2 g) each of chile pepper, star anise, thyme, black pepper
1 T olive oil
1. Mix all the spices together.
2. Heat the oil in a frying pan, and taking care not to burn the spices, cook for 5-6 minutes.
3. When cool, store in an airtight container. Best if used within a week; refrigerate.