Seasonal Kitchen BETH DOOLEY

This time of year, canned staples can rescue a hungry winter cook. Given the holiday madness and sometimes brutal weather, it's the canned beans and spices I count on for warming soups, stews, sauces and dips. Such ordinary foods, available anytime at the supermarket, spark endless creativity.

This isn't to say that canned chickpeas are better tasting than the dried ones; in fact, they are not. But they make it possible to turn out garlicky hummus and fragrant dinners in minutes. No pre-soaking and simmering, just open the can and you're halfway to a satisfying meal.

This shortcut curry built of canned chickpeas is my go-to comfort food on a busy, blustery night. I'm not trying to replicate the elegant, traditional curry (and am a bit reluctant to even call this a curry). It's just a fragrant medley of sautéed onion and garlic, canned coconut milk heavily seasoned with curry spices and fresh ginger, fresh lime juice, and chock-full of creamy, dense chickpeas. Sweet and hot, it's immensely satisfying and will warm you up without weighing you down.

In such a simple dish, the quality of the curry powder matters a great deal. Now is a good time to replace the jar if it's lingered in the back of the cupboard for more than a year and has lost its aroma. You can also purchase small amounts in bulk at a co-op if you don't think you will use a full jar in the coming six months. For the coconut milk, make it the canned and full-fat product; do not use the refrigerated milk meant for drinking. The canned coconut milk provides the stew's lush creamy body and eliminates the need for cornstarch or other thickeners.

This simple recipe with ingredients you may have already in the pantry (if not, stock up!) is the kind of dish that will accept any leftover odds and ends you'd like to use up — cooked chicken, turkey, carrots, sweet potatoes, parsnips or squash, as well as any dark leafy greens for color. It will also stand up fine on its own.

Serve it in a bowl with plenty of toasted naan or a crusty baguette to sop up the silky sauce. Pair it with a crisp green salad tossed in sharp vinaigrette for balance. Garnish the curry with chopped nuts or those packaged seasoned crispy chickpea snacks for extra color and crunch. Then dinner is ready!

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Beth Dooley is the author of "In Winter's Kitchen." Find her at