I've found a little more culinary freedom during these strange times.

What I mean by culinary freedom is the permission I'm giving myself to throw together dishes that aren't perfectly authentic or true to any particular recipe. I'm simply taking the idea of a dish or recipe and seeing how the essence of it might work with whatever I've got on hand.

For instance, the other day I wanted to make my grandma's chicken and dumplings, but I didn't have peas and carrots, which she always included. A couple of months ago, I would have run to the store to get everything I needed, because I could. Now my grocery store visits only happen every other week, so I searched my refrigerator and just threw in what I had on hand. In this case it was green beans and red peppers. It was great and I think Grandma would have liked it, too.

This week, I was craving the warm comfort of curry. My favorite is a lamb curry with potatoes. It's a slow-cooked, boldly spiced stew that I splash a little cream into at the end that perfumes my house with its exotic fragrance.

But I didn't have any lamb or potatoes or cream. Not so long ago, I would have gone out and procured every necessary item to create the dish exactly as I had many times in the past. Now I forced myself to poke through my supplies and come up with enough ingredients to make something like my favorite curry, at least in spirit.

I found boneless chicken thighs in my freezer, spinach and a few red hot chile peppers in my refrigerator and canned chickpeas, coconut milk and crushed tomatoes in my pantry. The result was familiar, though different from my original recipe, and it satisfied my craving perfectly.

If you make this recipe, and you have broccoli and cannellini beans in your kitchen, use them. Feel free to let go of the cooking rules and expectations you've labored under for so long. These days, going rogue, at least in the kitchen, is a good thing. Perhaps we can hold on to this long after our lives get back to normal.

Meredith Deeds is a cookbook author and food writer from Edina. Reach her at meredithdeeds@gmail.com. Follow her on Instagram ­at @meredithdeeds.

Coconut Tomato Chicken Curry

Serves 6.

Note: You can substitute whatever meat and vegetables you have on hand in this flavorful and versatile dish. You'll just need to adjust the cooking times to make sure everything is cooked until tender. From Meredith Deeds.

• 2 tbsp. olive oil

• 2 tbsp. unsalted butter

• 1 medium onion, chopped

2 large garlic cloves, finely chopped

1 jalapeño, seeded and chopped

1 tbsp. finely chopped fresh ginger

• 1 tbsp. curry powder

• 1/4 tsp. cayenne

• 3/4 tsp. salt

• 1 (28 oz.) can crushed tomatoes

• 1 c. chicken stock

2 lb. skinless, boneless chicken thighs, cut into 1-in. pieces

• 1 (14 oz.) can coconut milk

1 (14 oz.) can chickpeas or chickpeas, drained

• 5 oz. baby spinach

• Greek yogurt, for serving

Fresh cilantro leaves, for serving

• Sliced chile peppers, for serving


Heat oil and butter in a large pot over medium heat. Add onion, garlic and jalapeño and cook, stirring often, until beginning to soften, about 5 minutes. Add ginger, curry powder, cayenne and salt. Cook, stirring, until very fragrant, about 1 minute.

Add tomatoes and stock to the pot and bring to boil. Reduce heat to low and simmer, uncovered, for 10 minutes. Add coconut milk, chicken and chickpeas and continue to simmer for 20 minutes. Stir in spinach and cook for 1 to 2 minutes, just until wilted.

Spoon curry into serving bowls. Garnish with a dollop of yogurt and cilantro leaves. Serve with rice, if desired.

Nutrition information per serving:

Calories 520

Fat 30 g

Sodium 810 mg

Carbohydrates 26 g

Saturated fat 16 g

Added sugars 0 g

Protein 40 g

Cholesterol 160 mg

Dietary fiber 8 g

Exchanges per serving: 1 vegetable, ½ starch, 1 carb, 5 lean protein, 4 fat.