Zucchini and Chickpea Curry Recipe | Umami Girl

Toto, we’re not in London anymore. And I’m not just talking about this blizzard.

Lots of people have been asking us about our transition back home after three years abroad. I get a kick out of their unstated reasons for inquiring: part empathy, part testing the waters to see what such an adventure could look like for their own family. The weight given to each reason varies as widely as the questioners. And while both are perfectly good reasons for asking, I find myself especially enjoying the conversations that tend toward secret coaching sessions for possible future expats.  

Mostly I give everyone the same answer, and mostly it’s the truth. We’ve been lucky. It’s going great. The kids are schooling dancing arting basketballing friending like champs. We love being back in our sweet little house and finishing up the bits and bobs of renovation work we’d left behind four years ago. It’s so much easier to get things done on this side of the ocean. It’s nice to be closer to family again. (Wisdom imparted in secret coaching session: you can do this.)

All of that is true. But of course it’s also more complicated. As things are.

You hear all the time that wonderful, well-adjusted people have a hell of a time returning from abroad and trying to fit back in. Even if it’s just from London, which by worldwide standards is hardly different from New York or Boston or Toronto. When you slip away for a bit, something changes. Your perspective broadens by a sliver, and you see things a little differently. The same old things, but with longer shadows, with odd new refractions. 

We’ve experienced some of that shifting viewpoint too.  

A couple of factors have shielded us from the challenges such a shift can pose. First, in this tiny town where we live, things don’t change all that quickly. We didn’t return to a substantially different place than we left. Our friends are still here, and they’re still our friends — and that’s a lot.

Second, because we are who we are, fitting in seamlessly has never been at the top of the priorities list. Fitting in is tricky business. I learned long ago that the daily routines of it — the constant tiny self-sacrifices — can wear me down if I let them. So mostly I don’t let them anymore. 

Still — and here’s the kicker — being cool with not quite fitting in was easier in London. Kind of a lot easier. 

When people ask what I miss about London, I often talk about the travel and the architecture and the walking everywhere because we didn’t learn to drive. But the thing I miss most is the cultural undercurrent that celebrates eccentricity. There are lots of reasons for it, I think, but a major one is how few Londoners are really from there. So many are travelers of one sort or another, whether short-term or lifelong. In the company of people who are in it for the journey, it’s not unusual to catch a glimpse of a shared understanding. The journey is colorful and messy, and the mess is to be tolerated, inquired into, even cherished. No one belongs, so everyone belongs. There’s something to be said for a mess like that.

*     *     *

Zucchini and chickpea curry is one of the last meals I cooked in London. It was summer, so zucchini was banging down the door. The rest came down to cleaning out the pantry. It’s already a little strange to think of that moment in time on the other side of the ocean, two-thirds eagerness, one-third quiet trepidation about our homecoming. But that’s the great thing about a bowl of curry. It comforts you wherever you are.    

Carolyn xx

Zucchini and Chickpea Curry
Serves 4
A few weeks before we moved from London, I started eyeing our remaining ingredients with a sidelong glance. With cans of chickpeas, diced tomatoes, and coconut milk and plenty of spices to use up, plus a zillion zucchini in the fridge, this recipe killed approximately 9,000 birds with one stone. It's almost exactly what I had in my head, but after a little Googlefest I didn't even have to make up my own recipe -- just adapt one from England's wonderful Riverford Organics. In the photo you'll see we served it with brown sushi rice, because hey, it's not a perfect world. Without the duress of a move-induced pantry purge, I'd substitute brown basmati.
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Prep Time
15 min
Cook Time
30 min
Prep Time
15 min
Cook Time
30 min
  1. 2 tablespoons of a neutral-tasting vegetable oil or ghee
  2. 1 onion, diced
  3. 1-inch piece fresh ginger, peeled and minced or grated on a rasp
  4. 2 cloves garlic, minced
  5. 1 small jalapeno, diced or a pinch of ground cayenne pepper
  6. 1 teaspoon black mustard seeds
  7. 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  8. 1 teaspoon ground turmeric
  9. 1 teaspoon ground coriander
  10. 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  11. 1 15-ounce can diced tomatoes and their juices
  12. 1/2 a 15-ounce can coconut milk, well-shaken
  13. 1 teaspoon fine-grained salt
  14. 1 15-ounce can chickpeas, drained and rinsed
  15. 5 small to medium zucchini, diced
  16. Large handful fresh cilantro leaves and stems, roughly chopped
  1. Heat the oil or ghee for a minute over medium heat in a large pot with a heavy bottom. Add the onion and cook, stirring occasionally, until translucent, about five minutes. Add the ginger, garlic, jalapeno or cayenne, mustard seed, cumin, turmeric, coriander and cinnamon and cook, stirring almost constantly, until it smells amazing -- about a minute.
  2. Add the tomatoes, coconut milk and salt, raise the heat to high to bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add the chickpeas and zucchini and continue to simmer for about 20 minutes, until zucchini is tender but not falling apart.
  3. Remove from heat and stir in cilantro. Serve with rice.
  1. This curry tastes good right away but actually improves as the flavors mingle. It's a great make-ahead dish.
Adapted from Riverford Organics
Umami Girl http://umamigirl.com/

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  • Interesting post. I live in Utah (where I think it goes without saying that eccentricity is not exactly celebrated.) I totally get how it would be nice to live in that kind of place, but I think I’m happily eccentric where I am!

    The curry sounds wonderful too.ReplyCancel

    • Thanks, Kalyn. I totally get that. But I was surprised how much else I learned about myself when I didn’t have “a little different” to lean on so much.ReplyCancel

  • First of all, I’m thrilled to get my dose of Umami Girl regularly again. Second, I personally LOVE that you are “a little different”… prob why we get along so well. ;) And THIRD… this looks super yummy!ReplyCancel

The Vegetarian Flavor Bible Page and Dornenburg | Umami GirlTHE TAKEAWAY. This is a reference book you’ll use weekly, if not daily, in your kitchen. How often can you say that about a cookbook? Instead of recipes, it’s organized around ingredients (Cabbage, in General; Cabbage, Chinese; Cabbage, Green; Cabbage, Red; Cabbage, Savoy). For each entry, you’ll find a sophisticated but accessible list of complementary ingredients and flavors suggested by chefs, plus cooking techniques, sample dishes, and nuggets of chefly wisdom. This book will inspire you to create new dishes. It will confirm your hunch about adding — or not adding — that spice to that soup you’re throwing together. It will be your mentor and constant companion in the kitchen, and you won’t even have to take it out to lunch.

THE DIRTY DETAILS. For years the original Flavor Bible has been the first resource I reach for when developing recipes. When we stopped eating meat, I started using it as a de facto vegetarian flavor bible. When I learned that author Karen Page had spent a similar few years to mine — lost a dad to cancer, researched the connections between food and health, and even earned the eCornell certificate in Plant Based Nutrition — I emitted several involuntary giddy squeaks. Because she, of course, took those experiences a giant leap forward and turned them into a beautiful, empowering resource. The Vegetarian Flavor Bible is everything I’d hoped. It celebrates and respects plant-based ingredients and helps you make them fabulous.

THE LOVELY AUTHOR (& PHOTOGRAPHER). I’m tempted to say that wife and husband team Karen Page and Andrew Dornenburg need no introduction, but with seven billion people in the world, I should prolly say a few words in case you don’t know them. They are the much-lauded authors of nine books about food and the American food scene that together have sold almost a million copies and have won every major gastronomic book award, including Georges Duboeuf Wine Book of the Year,  Gourmand World Cookbook Award: Best in the World, IACP Cookbook of the Year, and the James Beard Book Award for Best Writing on Food.

YOU HAD ME AT… “Throughout history, people have chosen vegetarianism for many reasons. The most common motivations fall into three primary categories: eating animals isn’t good for you (health), isn’t good for others (environment), and isn’t good, period (ethics). The current generation, however, appears to have pioneered a new reason for the shift away from meat and dairy products: maximizing flavor.”

HOW TO GET IT. Here’s the link at Amazon and Powell’s. It doesn’t really matter how you get this book. If you like to cook at all and enjoy plant-based foods, just do it. Tell ‘em I sent ya.

Carolyn xx





  • Alex

    I have the book and love it. It’s a fantastic inspiration for when you don’t know what you want to cook. However, the first chapter about vegetarianism felt preachy and out of place for a reference book. It’s at least 70 pages that is probably mostly preaching to the choir. Still, that chapter aside, I LOVE this book.ReplyCancel

Dispatches from a Cleanse | Umami Girl

Despite my well documented, above-average coziness with juices, smoothies, and good, clean food, I’d never attempted a cleanse before now. Reason being, eating is awesome. I really like doing it. I really don’t like the idea of spending more than a few hours in a row not doing it. And I definitely don’t dislike myself enough — freak flag flying, late 30-something that I am — to do a cleanse as some sort of ascetic punishment or experiment in A-type control freakishness.

But I got to thinking as the new year rushed in. Maybe a cleanse didn’t have to be about dislike. Maybe it could be about liking myself enough to pour a little bit of obsessive, nurturing attention into my daily practice of nourishment. I’m already a pretty thoughtful eater. Some days this means I pay close attention to the source and quality of my food. Other days it just means I think about food all the time. But there’s something to be said for taking a pause, for resetting, for taking thoughtfulness to a more detailed level. There’s also something to be said for having spent the summer eating Europe, and for the enthusiastic reacquaintance I’ve made in the past few months with such health halo American junk foods as Annie’s Mac & Cheese and Whole Foods brand sour cream and onion potato chips. That particular something is best expressed in the form of a burgeoning hip-to-waist ratio, or as excessive difficulty finding one’s center of balance in crow pose.

All things considered, I was ready to slow it down a bit. And starting January 5, the yoga studio where I practice was hosting a three-week cleanse based on the Clean Program. Just to put it out there, I haven’t read the book by the creator of the program nor done any real independent research on it — I just paid a small fee to be led through the process by a local health-supportive chef.

I jumped in, and here we are on Day 13. After a three-day settling in period, each day is a liquid breakfast (usually a smoothie or juice); a “normal” lunch (for me, normal has meant gentle panic that I will never eat again, followed by mindful face stuffing with all sorts of delicious foods from the “approved” list); and a liquid dinner (usually a pureed soup). There’s no coffee, no alcohol, no anything that anyone in history has ever been allergic to (give or take), and a 12-hour fast between dinner and breakfast.

Here are a few highlights from what I’ve learned so far.  View full post »

  • hahaha. I appreciate your total honesty! So refreshing to read. There’s so much non-science out there about juice cleanses, it is sometimes frightening. I do know it teaches you great discipline. I tried a juice fast for a few hours and I found out I wasn’t cut out for it :DReplyCancel

  • Carla

    Glad you’re back and with such a timely post. I could have written everything you wrote and am also on week 3 of my self imposed cleanse which isn’t nearly as strict at yours. Good luck and keep it up. ; pReplyCancel

Amsterdam Canal Bridge | Umami GirlWell hello again. It’s been a little longer than I’d planned since the last time I checked in. We’ve been busy settling back into our life in New Jersey — reconnecting with old friends in that day-to-day way that you miss when great distances are involved, reminding ourselves of the ways we do things in American schools (wait, what’s the difference between a journal entry and an essay draft?), and literally settling in. Placing things on shelves. Finding the right balance between Pottery Barn deliveries and antique finds on Craigslist. (Wait, is this rustic or hideous?) For a while my most profound interior design inspiration was the shit we had piled all over the floor. Now I’m back to being inspired by the unattainably chic Dutch and Scandinavian children’s bedrooms smattered across Pinterest like it’s nothing. I will not rest until I find an affordable Louis XV armoire like the one in that picture to use as a coat closet. Mine will look nothing like that one, but in my head I’ll always see the one in the picture, so we’re cool. Like when I used to bring my hairdresser a photo of Jennifer Aniston and then see her face superimposed over mine in the mirror for weeks afterward. Seems healthy.

Streets of Amsterdam | Umami GirlThere was a time not so long ago when Dutch things were quite a bit more attainable — namely, the week we spent living in Amsterdam back in July. It was our second visit there in three years, because the first time we just couldn’t get enough. I think Amsterdam may be my favorite European city to date. It’s so, so gorgeous in a slightly grey and moody way. It’s the exact right amount chic and genuinely doesn’t seem to be trying. It’s fun, but also incredibly industrious. It’s just the right size. I’ll stop before they issue a restraining order against me, because I’d really like to go back some day without having to be all paranoid like the guy from The Goldfinch while he was there. 

Dutch Baby and GloryOkay, just one more thing, though: did I mention the cheeky/chic thing they pull off so perfectly? What even is that baby bike trailer? Can you imagine what a poseur someone in Brooklyn would look like toting that thing? And yet. Amsterdam. Nailed it. Okay, I am seriously stopping now.  View full post »

  • Oooooh, gorgeous post. I’m off to Amsterdam at the beginning of November and your lovely photos have just made me even more excited. Eagerly adding your suggestions to my google map, especially Cora, which is just one block from my hotel. Thanks for the great tips!ReplyCancel

  • kamal
  • OMG thanks so much for this. We will visit for the first time this weekend and you photos make me so excited. Can’t wait to try the coffee shops – the ones with grate coffee not that other product that also makes people happy :)ReplyCancel

Fried Eggs and Creamy Spinach | Umami GirlWell hello there from Seville. It’s been 25 days since we left our flat in London and began — as Cope recently put it — “Tim Ferrissing” Europe, meandering our way back to New Jersey over the course of a month and a half. So far we’ve been to Amsterdam, Paris, Alicante, and Málaga. I’ll post some photos, recommendations and highlights from each city in the coming weeks, none of which will include a repeat usage of Tim Ferriss as a verb, I promise.

Seville wasn’t on the itinerary, mostly because it averages about 97 degrees Fahrenheit in August. But the beginning of our time in Málaga didn’t turn out the way we’d hoped. The town itself is cute, with pretty architecture in the old town and a nice international tourist vibe. Due to the first of our hotel snafus, we stayed in an airbnb for one night in the old town before heading to the hotel. (I feel morally and aesthetically compelled to pause here and register my objection to the shape of the airbnb logo, but otherwise we’ve really loved our experiences in the apartments we’ve carefully chosen through the site.) 

Relaxing in the apartment for an hour before we headed out to explore, Cope Google mapped how long it would take us to walk to our hotel the next afternoon. He was pretty sure it was about ten blocks away. As a point of pride, we usually don’t travel with much luggage. But since we’re in the middle of a protracted overseas move, we’re towing two large suitcases and three carry-on bags, one of which we have to hold our breath and wink seductively to get past check-in personnel. The difference between ten blocks and twenty is one for which we need some mental preparation, if not a taxi.

The girls were playing a game on an iPad. The room was fairly quiet. And then, “Huh,” said Cope. “Six hours and forty minutes.”

The Málaga we thought our hotel was in (namely, actual Málaga) was a six hour and forty minute walk — otherwise known as a one-hour bus ride — from the Málaga our hotel was in (namely, Torre del Mar, a tiny coastal town near Vélez-Málaga, technically still within the province of Málaga). Got it? Because we didn’t. This was a surprise, and not a particularly welcome one. Still, we were game. It’s all an adventure. So here we are, smiling on the bus to Vélez-Málaga.

Surprise Bus to Vélez-Málaga | Umami Girl

Oh, Vélez-Málaga. My Spanish is poor on the best of days, but when we disembarked from the bus and walked the few blocks to our hotel, I asked Cope whether he thought that Vélez might mean “The Newark, New Jersey of,” or simply “Not.”

There were plenty of young Spanish families and groups of elderly folks having what seemed like a happy vacation in Torre del Mar. I’m at least as happy for them as they were to see us there, and from the looks on many of their faces as they tried to figure out what we might be doing there, I’d say probably a little more so. I won’t belabor our reasons for leaving. I’ll just say that Cope is turning 40 in a few days, and the Newark of Málaga didn’t seem like the right place to do it. Also, the beach is almost definitely made of cat litter. View full post »

  • What a fabulous dish! This could be breakfast, lunch, or dinner!!!ReplyCancel

  • […] the first half of our summer trip, Cope was working, which made it feel a little more like our real life. Not too much, though. Check […]ReplyCancel

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