I’m not a massive curry fan. It’s rarely something I crave and probably only something I eat a few times a year. I think perhaps this stems from having had so many bad curries from cheap Indian takeaways, full of orange grease and spices that taste identical from one dish to another. But, over the years and in particular since moving to London, I’ve had some fantastic Indian food, in particular from vegetarian places. I’ve found that what I really love are the sides and starters- the bindis and bhajis, patras and paneers, the dosas and dhals.
This, in turn, has slowly lead to trying out things at home, which is easily done in my area as there is an abundance of different ingredients, in particular spices, to hand. I recently picked up some paneer which turns out to be super easy to cook and makes for an impressive side accompanied by some flat breads. Making these from scratch is also surprisingly easy and a good way to use up any wholewheat flour you might have lying around (or in my case, grahams flour!)
For the Saag Paneer
You will need (for 4 people as a main or 6-8 as a starter/side):
500 g spinach leaves
1/2 tsp ground cumin
1/2 tsp fenugreek seeds
1 tbsp oil
1 red onion, sliced
5 garlic cloves, chopped
200g tins chopped tomatoes
2 cm piece of ginger, grated
1 tsp garam masala
225g paneer, cubed
1. Get a large pot of boiling water going and put the spinach in for half a minute, just to wilt slightly. Refresh with cold water and leave to drain before chopping finely. You could also use frozen spinach, if you have that to hand.
2. In a small frying pan, dry roast the cumin, coriander and the fenugreek until aromatic. Transfer to a separate bowl or plate.
3. Heat the oil in a large frying pan and fry the onion, garlic and herbs until brown and fragrant. Stir in the tomato, ginger and garam masala and bring to a simmer.
4. Add the spinach and cook until the liquid has reduced.
5. Add the cubes of paneer and cook to heat through but not so much that the paneer begins to melt.
6. Serve in bowls and scatter with some coriander, should you wish and the parathas.
For the Cheat’s Parathas
You will need (for about 8 breads):
200g sifted grahams or wholewheat flour
75 ml water
pinch of salt
olive oil or butter
1. Mix the flour and salt together in a large bowl and form a well in the middle of the mixture. Add the water, a little at a time, mixing between each addition.
2. Get the dough out onto a clean worktop counter or chopped board, which you have sprinkled with flour. Knead until you have a smooth, non-sticky dough.
3. Separate the dough into 8 pieces and roll each piece out to a round flatbread about 15 cm in diameter. You will most likely need a fair bit of flour, if the dough is sticking.
4. Heat a large frying pan until very hot. Transfer one of the breads into the pan and brush with oil or butter. Turn over and repeat on the other side. It should take no more than one minute to cook on each side. You don’t want to over cook the bread or it will crisp up too much and go hard.
5. Remove from the pan and put on a tea towel which you then fold over the bread, to keep warm.
My domestic task for this week is to rearrange the kitchen. I think I was inspired by the ergonomically sound layout and design of the Secret Larder (particularly the labelled fridge shelves). Oh to have those worktops! The storage solutions! But I’ll try to make the most of the space I do have and see how it goes.
I think my kitchen’s problem is essentially two-fold. 1) I recently got my bread maker out of storage and have been enjoying making homemade loaves (with mixed success, there’s a learning curve), but the thing does take up quite a lot of space. 2) I can’t seem resist picking up new ingredients all the time. A bottle of this, a jar of that soon add up to a full suitcase on my travels or an overflowing handbag out and about in London.
So our counters are permanently brimming, which can drive me potty from time to time. One obvious way around this is to actually use up the store cupboard stuff before seeking out new treasures. So I set myself a challenge for lunch today to find thrifty ways to use things up (see also my austerity soup). I made a warm salad of chickpeas, spinach and garlic with a good drizzle of olive oil, pomegranate molasses and a sprinkle of paprika and sea salt (I nabbed more than my fair share of fleur de sel at my friend Jen’s wedding in the Guérande region of Brittany back in September, where little bags of the famous sea salt were given as favours).
A good way for using up any pita bread hiding in the freezer is to turn them into crisps for snacking on. Simply toast to defrost, cut into strips, toss in some olive oil and put in the oven. You can add cumin, salt, pepper, herbs, etc. to flavour. I served these with a cannellini bean and rosemary dip (made with rosemary oil and flaked almonds). That’s about six store cupboard items used so I can definitely justify at least three more culinary purchases now.
Got back to the ranch late last night after seeing my friend Nick’s brilliant play, “If there is I haven’t found it yet” at the Bush Theatre and quite fancied a snack. I’d made this super sized quiche the night before and felt rather pleased with myself coming home to it.
It works on my basic quiche principle, which is a plain case filled with whatever you fancy and a 1:100 ratio of eggs to ml of single cream. For this particular one, I mixed things up a bit by using sour cream, one of my favorite ingredients (although not quite as great as creme fraiche). I’d been in the mood for some super strong flavours and this is the result.
Holy Moly Quiche
It’s called Holy Moly because it packs quite a punch- you’ve got anchovies, blue cheese and butternut squash, which I can find sickly sweet unless you pair it with something bitter, sour or punchy.
You will need
A medium sized butternut squash (peeled and chopped up into smallish cubes- bloody pain, but worth it)
Half a packet of baby spinach, washed
A strong blue cheese (I used Danish Blue as it’s what I had but Gorgonzola would be particularly nice here, I think)
anchovies (one tin), drained and finely chopped
3 cloves of garlic
a big hand full of flat leaf parsley, chopped
300ml sour cream
1. First off, make your pastry, which isn’t as hard as it sounds. My mum taught me this recipe and although it wouldn’t stand a chance in hell at a pastry pageant, it’s easy and it works. I love the way it turns out- all crumbly and sticks to the roof of your mouth.
All you do is pour some flour into a bowl and add butter, mixing with your hands or in a mixer until you have a pale yellow dough with a large crumb consistency. Sprinkle this into your pie dish (greased if it’s not non-stick) and press with your fingers to form the pastry case. Prick with a fork before blind baking in a 200 C/ Gas mark 6 oven for about 15-20min.
2. In the meantime parboil your butternut cubes for a few minutes. Drain and fry in olive oil and chopped garlic cloves. It’s ok if it becomes a bit mushy.
3. Whisk together your eggs and sour cream, add cheese (adjust amount to your liking), anchovies and parsley. Season with pepper only as the anchovies are quite salty enough (if you don’t like anchovies, omit them and add some salt at this stage).
4. When the squash is cooked through, add the spinach and let this wilt. Pour contents of pan into your prepared pastry.
5. Pour over the eggy cheesy mixture and bake for 30 min. Serve with a a nice spinach and tomato salad with balsamic dressing. Nice.
She made me an amazingly tasty and simple salmon and lentil combo for dinner. It involved the following:
Boil up some lentils in a pan, then add a tablespoon of curry paste and some crushed garlic, mix well and leave to simmer. Add your salmon fillets on top and put a lid on. Leave for 10 min or so for it to cook through and for the curry to permeate the salmon. Remove the salmon and stir through some spinach. Serve.
Easy as pie… Actually, stay tuned for pie.