Learning to eat again

Apparently, you should always build on what you have, as soon as you can. Otherwise the resolve may slip away and you’ll be left at square one without any hope. Or maybe not, but I think I would be.

For that reason, I’ve spent the day working out a few little things that will ‘reward’ me for working hard and being more organised. Here’s the main one!

Continue reading “Learning to eat again”

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Friday night is Curry Night! Or, here is the mess within which I live

I realise that everyone doesn’t need to see the appalling mess which litters my desk, but there just isn’t time to make it pretty. In 10 minutes it’ll be eaten. Either by me, or, because I’m still baking na’an breads, by the dog if I lose focus. She has surreptitiously inched closer and is now directly below my dinner.

curry and homemade na'an (and a lot of mess)

The point is this: here is my curry. It was mega easy to make (and believe me, I know a thing or two about being terrified of a recipe). I shied away from making curry from scratch for a long time, and the first time I attempted it, I was actually 30. No other type of meal has been held off for so long in the history of Sakina.

Anyway, I’m too lazy and busy today to make a proper curry using the fabulous 50 Great Curries of India by Camellia Panjabi, and neither do I have enough ingredients, so I cheated, and made a thoroughly unauthentic one, and you can too.

I’m gonna give you the curry instructions first, and the na’an bread ones second, because I have a feeling that the curry will be more likely to be made than the na’an (even though they are easier than making ordinary bread).

You will need:

Chicken breast x the number of people who are eating. Or more. I usually go for more.
2 x onions – one chopped, one sliced
Orange lentils
Yellow/red bell pepper
Your favourite curry paste
(I used Madras)
Olive oil

Chop the chicken into large bitesize pieces, and marinade in a tablespoon of curry paste and a few slugs of oil. I managed to do this several hours before dinner, so it worked very well, but that’s a rarity for me.

When you’re ready to cook, sling the onion into the bottom of a wide/large pan, with a few more slugs of oil, and fry on a low/med heat for ages. 10-15 minutes.

Wang some curry paste (how much depends on how hot you like it) into the pan, cook for about 30 seconds, and then heave a bunch of lentils in. I don’t know how many! Whatever you think. Err on the side of caution, is all, or you’ll be eating lentils for a fortnight.

Pour loads of water on top, bring to the boil, and simmer until the lentils are soft and cooked. I put a stock cube in for flavour and instead of salt, but it’s up to you.

I strung the pieces of chicken, alternated with chunks of yellow pepper onto some wooden skewers which I had hanging around since someone’s BBQ a few years ago, but you’re just as safe to bake them in a tray. Oven was at about 200 degrees C. (I wasn’t really paying attention).

When the lentils are cooked, if you have a handblender, knock yourself out – I don’t like it too smooth, just thick with texture. That’s why I sliced some of the onion.

When the chicken is cooked, unstring it into the curry, cook for a little longer, and away you go!

Homemade Na’an Breads

I got the recipe off a wicked little website called Aayi’s Recipes.

12oz plain or strong white breadflour
half tsp sugar
1 tsp dried yeast
3/4 tsp salt
2 tblsp plain yoghurt

120ml milk
3 tbsp water

Some nigella seeds (onion seeds)

Dissolve the salt and sugar into the water (needs to be slightly warmed), and add the yeast. Give it a whisk, stretch some cling film over the top of the container, and leave in a warm  place (I only gave it 5 minutes).

Mix the flour with all the other ingredients except for the onion seeds, and you’ll have a fabulous, bosom-soft bread dough. Knead that on a floury surface for a few minutes, and then stick it somewhere warm. Some brave people rise bread in the oven. I. Do. Not. Dare.

After the dough’s approximately doubled in size, heave it out, knock all the air out of it, cut it into half, then those pieces in half again, and roll out one of the pieces on a very floury surface. (BTW, the oven is now at 220 degrees C, for those who didn’t notice the sleight of hand there). If you have onion seeds, sprinkle them onto the floured surface. They’ll press in as you roll.

It doesn’t matter what shape the breads are, but they go quite easily into the tear shape that we’re used to seeing in supermarkets.

According to Aayi’s Recipes, it wants to be rolled out thicker than a chapati, and thinner than a paratha. Just play with it, experiment. I did.

Onto a hot baking tray, into the oven, and see what happens. They’re supposed to ‘puff up’. My first one was like a rugby ball, but the others puffed up randomly.

They stay in the oven for almost 7 minutes; just before then, get it out, turn it over, pour olive oil or garlic butter over it, and heave it back in again.

They’re ready when they look like na’an bread. This can happen for you.

And finally …

No one really needs a recipe for a salad, but cachumba is ace with curry. All I do is dice some cucumber really small, and half a red onion, mix the two together and add a couple of teaspoons of mint sauce. Give it all a good mix.

Curry Night

The difference between cooking from a recipe book and working from your head is like being a busker who makes beautiful sounds in the street without sheet music and then puts on his tuxedo and plays precise, fast Mozart in a philharmonic orchestra. The skills are the same but the attitude’s different and you’re playing someone else’s beat.

There aren’t many days when I use a recipe to the letter, but when learning a style of cookery, it is essential to stick to the book. Curry isn’t curry unless you follow the rules. If you deviate before you are ready, all you have is a spicy stew.

Now most people will know that ‘curry’ was a watery stew invented for the sake of the delicate British palate, but the modern use of the word covers a vast array of dishes, from white chicken korma to Goa fish curry; egg curries, dried fruit curries and more besides. Far more than what you can find in a high street British Indian restaurant and way beyond the watery stew.

The book in question tonight is Carmellia Panjabi’s 50 Great Curries of India. It’s an unprepossessing book, but its pages dispense the magic of precise curry making with lovely pictures and if you are careful not to miss out any of the ingredients, it is possible to perfectly replicate the delicious concoctions inside.

A fast rundown of the recipe of the night: Panjabi’s Malabar Prawn Curry won’t do it justice, but it should give you the flavour of what you can expect if you part with £6 to obtain it for yourself from Amazon.

Malabar Prawn Curry, Magpie stylee

The smart curry learner gets the ingredients ready in groups, bowled-up like a TV cookery show. When you’re ready to get the show on the road, it will only take around 20 minutes to make.

100g creamed coconut melted into milk with 400ml water
1 tablespoon tamarind extract diluted in 100ml water

1/4 tsp mustard seeds
10 dried curry leaves

half a biggish onion, sliced thinly end to end

3 cloves garlic, sliced
1 heaped teaspoon grated ginger
4 green chillies, cut lengthways in half.

1 tsp dried chilli flakes
1 tsp red chilli powder
1/2 tsp coriander powder
1/2 tsp turmeric
1/2 tsp cumin powder

2 tomatoes, chopped

200g (it will take 300g) prawns *preferably raw but needs must when the Devil drives.*

3 tablespoons of oil (yes, THREE).

Heat the oil and add the mustard seeds. When they start to pop, add the curry leaves to allow the oil to become infused with the flavour. Add the sliced onion and fry for 5-7 minutes. Keep stirring, the onion wants to be slickly yellow and flavoursome; not edged with dark brown.

Add the ginger, chillies and garlic. Fry for 2 minutes and then add the dried chilli and the powders. Add 2 tablespoons of water and stir to prevent sticking. DON’T BURN THE SPICES.

Add the chopped tomatoes, 100ml water and tamarind extract. Simmer for 5-10 minutes while you put on the rice. 

Pour in the coconut milk, salt the curry, stir and let it rise to a simmer. Taste. Too hot? Tough. There are ways to reduce the heat, but this isn’t a curry to kill. The tamarind will have given it a warm, sour flavour; salt is not needed in as great a quantity as you might expect.

Add the prawns, bring to a brief simmer again and serve with lashings of raita. (Diced cucumber and onion in cooling plain yoghurt).

Strangely, it doesn’t even begin to resemble the glorious sunset red of the photograph in the book, but the taste is unusual and heady and despite the accidental over application of chilli flakes, is not as hot in the dish as it is in the pan.