Southern Indian Rice and Seafood Soup

This dish started life as a Jamie Oliver recipe – always a good starting point – and with only a few slight alterations it has become an eternal favourite in our house.

It’s perfect for autumnal evenings: thick, filling, warming, comforting. I make it quite spicy, but if you’re not a fan of chilli heat just reduce the amount of chilli powder accordingly and use milder fresh chillies.

The ingredients list may look a little daunting, but this is actually a quick and easy dish to make and most of it you probably already have in your cupboards.

Once again, using a home-made vegetable stock makes an incredible difference to the depth of flavour. I have made two versions of this side-by-side, one using a good bouillon powder and the other using my own stock – the difference was like night and day. Using ghee (clarified butter) rather than oil also makes an enormous difference. Much of the shelf space in my fridge is taken up with home-made concoctions such as these – it’s a sacrifice worth making for the results you get.

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RECIPE – serves 4

3 tbsp ghee

2 medium onions, finely chopped

3 tbsp brown mustard seeds

a handful of fresh curry leaves (I freeze mine fresh and use them as needed)

2 tsp cumin seeds

5 birds-eye chillies, finely sliced, seeds left in

4 cm fresh ginger, finely chopped

6 cloves of garlic, peeled and crushed

2 tsp garam masala

1 1/2 tsp hot chilli powder

2 tsp turmeric

2 handfuls of Basmati rice

600 ml vegetable stock

2 400 ml tins of coconut milk

600g fish (a mix of cod, hake, haddock, salmon and prawns) cut into large chunks

a small bunch of fresh coriander stalks, chopped

the zest and juice of 2 limes

2 tsp garam masala to garnish

mild red chillies to garnish (optional)

a small bunch of fresh coriander leaves, chopped, to garnish


METHOD 

Put the garam masala, hot chilli powder and turmeric in a small bowl with a little water and make into a smooth paste. Set aside for now. Doing this prevents the spices burning when added to the pan.

Melt the ghee in a very large pan, then fry the onions gently for around ten minutes until softened but not coloured. Adding a little salt to the onions encourages their moisture to leach out and prevents browning. Toward the end of the softening time, add the brown mustard seeds, curry leaves, cumin seeds, birds-eye chillies, ginger and garlic. Stir thoroughly and cook on gently for a few minutes until deeply aromatic. Add the spice paste, stir thoroughly and cook for a minute before adding the Basmati rice. Stir again, thoroughly coating the rice with the spices.

Add the stock and bring to the boil, then simmer for ten minutes. Add the coconut milk with a good pinch of salt and bring back to a simmer – do not let it boil.

At this point you can turn the heat off and let the broth steep for a few hours. This deepens and softens the flavours of the spice, but you can of course carry straight on…

At this point you will of course have been tasting the broth regularly, and you may be puzzled that it tastes a little flat and unexciting. Fear not, the magic happens now.

If you are using them for the garnish, slit each mild red chilli several times and add to the broth.

Add the fish (not the prawns if you are using them, not yet) together with the chopped coriander stalks, put a lid over the pan and simmer gently for around ten minutes, until the fish starts to flake. Three or four minutes before the fish is cooked, add the prawns and re-cover the pan.

When the fish is cooked, remove the mild red chillies and set aside for use as a garnish, check the seasoning and adjust as necessary, stir to break up the fish, then add the lime zest and juice, stir, and scatter 2 teaspoons of garam masala over the top.  Taste it now… your toes will probably curl in pleasure!

Serve in bowls garnished with chopped coriander leaves and a mild red chilli each if you like.

This requires nothing else alongside it except, perhaps, some chapattis; it is a complete meal in itself.

Red Tomato Dhal

Take a few simple ingredients, add a little heat and a little time and a whole evening of satisfied fullness will follow. Dhal is rapidly becoming one of my go-to meals when it’s cold outside and I’m lacking inspiration – after eating it I wonder why the hell we don’t have it every night. I have over twenty different dhal recipes in my notebook, they are all amazing but this is one I made the other night and it’s my current favourite – until I make the next one…

By the way, this is a very low-calorie meal – around 200 calories or so per serving. You’ll be amazed at how full you feel.

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RECIPE – serves 2

1/2 tsp rapeseed oil

1 red onion, halved and thinly sliced

1/2 tsp ground turmeric

1 tsp ground cumin

1/2 tsp black mustard seeds

1/2 tsp dried chilli flakes

2 garlic cloves, peeled and crushed

1 tin of chopped tomatoes

75g red lentils

600ml vegetable stock or water

a few good handfuls of baby leaf spinach

fresh coriander, leaves and stalks chopped separately


METHOD 

in a small bowl, add a little water to the ground turmeric and cumin to make a paste, set aside for now.

Put a large non-stick frying pan over a high heat and brown the onion for 5-10 minutes until well coloured, then add the chilli flakes and black mustard seeds and fry for a further 15 seconds before adding the turmeric and cumin paste with the garlic. Cook on for a further 30 seconds or so then add the lentils and tinned tomatoes. Stir in the vegetable stock (or water) and the chopped coriander stalks. Bring to the boil before reducing to a gentle simmer for 30 minutes to an hour until the lentils are soft (depending on the age of your lentils). Add more water if necessary to prevent sticking.

Season, then add the spinach and allow it to wilt into the sauce. Scatter over the chopped coriander leaves and serve alongside Basmati rice and an onion salad.

Spiced Sweet Potato Soup

There is always a vat of soup in our kitchen; it does for lunches, snacks and sometimes even dinner, on those days when exhaustion rules out anything more arduous than lighting the gas under a pot and putting some crusty bread on a board.

Having soup always available is a useful habit to get into; it means you will never, ever have an excuse for not eating when you’re hungry, and if you have unexpected visitors nothing can be more welcoming on a cold and blustery day than a cup of thick, warming soup. If you are new to cooking, making soups is arguably the best way to fast-track your understanding of how flavours combine to become more than the sum of their parts.

This is one of those soups that started with far fewer ingredients and grew over the years as I learned which flavours would accentuate and contrast the flavours already here. Try it for yourself; use this as a starting point and experiment a bit to make this your ideal soup – that’s the way to treat all recipes.

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RECIPE – serves 6-8

olive oil

3 large sweet potatoes (900g or so in total)

2 onions, chopped

4 garlic cloves, crushed

5cm knob of ginger, finely chopped

4 green birds-eye chillies, roughly chopped

1 tbsp garam masala

1 tsp ground cumin

1 tsp ground coriander

1 tsp ground turmeric

1 litre of vegetable stock

a handful of fresh coriander, stalks and leaves chopped separately

a 400 ml tin of coconut milk

the zest of a lime

1 tbsp fresh lime juice


METHOD 

Heat the oven to 200C/ gas 6.

Peel the sweet potatoes and chop into approximate 2cm cubes. Put into a large saucepan and drizzle 2 tbsp of olive oil over the potato cubes, then swirl and mix everything in the pan until all the cubes are lightly coated in oil. Tip onto one or two roasting trays; be careful not to crowd the cubes, you want them to roast and caramelise and they need a bit of space around them to do so. To ensure good roasting, spread the cubed potato into a single layer on each tray and ensure that they don’t touch eat other. Roast for 40-60 minutes until soft and they are just starting to caramelise and turn dark brown.

Meanwhile, using the same large saucepan you used to oil the cubed potato, heat 1 tbsp oil over a medium heat and add the onions. Gently saute them for around 10 minutes until they are soft and translucent, but not coloured. A little salt in the pan will assist the softening and delay any caramelisation.

Combine the garam masala, ground cumin, ground coriander and turmeric in a small bowl, add a little water, mix to a paste and put to one side for now.

When the onions are soft, add the garlic, ginger, and chillies. Cook for a minute or so, stirring regularly, then add the spice paste and stir thoroughly over the heat for a couple of minutes, ensuring that everything is completely coated in spice. Now add the stock and bring to a simmer; keep simmering until the sweet potatoes are ready, at which point scrape them off their roasting trays and into the simmering stock. Add the chopped coriander stalks, simmer for a further five minutes, then remove from the heat and allow to cool for a couple of minutes.

Using either a stick blender (my preferred option, just for the convenience) or a free-standing blender, blitz the soup to a smooth and even consistency – you will very likely need to add more water to loosen it. When it is completely smooth, put the soup back onto a moderate heat and add the coconut milk. Stir thoroughly and bring back to a gentle simmer, do not boil. Check and adjust the seasoning.

At this point you can either continue to finish the soup and serve it, or switch the heat off and leave it to stand for a few hours while the flavours develop even further.

When ready to serve, bring back to a simmer, add the lime zest and juice, stir well and serve scattered with chopped coriander leaves. You can make it even more impressive by adding a swirl of single cream and a scattering of cayenne pepper. Add a hunk of crusty farmhouse bread and it’s a filling, warming, feel-good soup for a winter morning, midday or evening.

 

Indonesian Coconut Fish Curry

What makes this curry very different from what you get in your local takeaway is the shrimp paste. The flavour that it adds to the dish is indescribable, at least by me. Together with the lime, lemongrass and coconut it makes something midway between a Thai curry and a Keralan curry, but different enough from both to be worth putting into a category all its own.

Shrimp paste is widely available in supermarkets, but if you do struggle to get it you will get an acceptable result by using one anchovy and a teaspoon of fish sauce. The result will still be lovely, but different. Please please please, make and use your own curry powder – it is dead easy and it makes an incredible difference to the finished dish. You will find my recipe here.

All it requires to complete it is some plain boiled or steamed Basmati rice. If you keep the woody parts of your lemongrass stalks, add these to the cooking water for a delicate citrussy edge to the rice. Delicious!

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RECIPE – feeds 2

1 tbsp ghee (or vegetable oil)
1 medium onion, finely chopped
a big piece of fresh ginger (4cm or so) finely chopped
4 garlic cloves, peeled and crushed
1 tsp shrimp paste (or 1 anchovy and 1 tsp fish sauce)
4 birds-eye chillies, left whole but with a 1 cm slit in the side
2 lemongrass stalks, tough outer leaves removed, soft parts finely chopped
I heaped tbsp curry powder
I tbsp jaggery (or dark muscovado sugar)
a bunch of fresh coriander, stalks finely chopped, leaves roughly chopped
1 tin of coconut milk
3 loins of cod, hake or other firm white fish, cut into large chunks
200g raw king prawns
finely grated zest and the juice of 1 lime


METHOD 

Prepare all your ingredients.

In a large frying pan, melt the ghee over a medium-low heat, add the onions and fry gently for 5 to 10 minutes until soft and translucent.

Add the ginger, garlic, chillies, lemongrass and shrimp paste. Cook for two minutes or so until aromatic and starting to take a bit of colour, then add the jaggery and curry powder. Cook on for a minute or so, keeping everything constantly moving so nothing catches, then add the coconut milk. Stir well and bring to a gentle simmer for 5 minutes.

At this point I like to turn everything off and let the sauce rest for a few hours. This softens the edge of the spices and makes everything more flavourful. However, you can carry straight on…

Add the coriander stalks and the white fish, simmer for three minutes and then add the lime zest, half the lime juice and the prawns. Simmer for a further two minutes then add the rest of the lime juice and scatter the coriander leaves over the top.

The fish and prawns should be just about cooked – don’t forget that they will cook on in the heat of the sauce.

Serve with plain steamed or boiled Basmati rice, flavoured with lemongrass stalks if you like.

 

Thai Hake Curry with Lemongrass and Lime Leaf

I am always jotting down notes alongside recipes, especially in my own notebooks where I record the definitive versions of everything worth making again and again. There are a lot of recipes in those notebooks, so sometimes a few words will enable me to remember something about the dish if I haven’t made it for a while.

Alongside this dish I saw the following: “Wow!”

How could I not make it again after seeing that? I made it last night, my wife and I looked at each other and we both said… wow!

I have called it a curry, but only because it has a little heat from the chillies. There are no dried spices here, just the intense natural flavours of shallots, garlic, ginger, lemongrass, chillies and lime. When everything is prepared, just sitting there in a raw pile it smells heavenly. Apply the heat and you lose none of that but gain a lot more.

Everything I blog about is worthy of your time, but you really, really must give this one a try.

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RECIPE – feeds 2

2 tbsp groundnut oil

4 shallots, thinly sliced

3 garlic cloves, peeled and crushed

40g fresh ginger, finely chopped

4 lemongrass stalks, tender parts only, finely chopped

6 kaffir lime leaves, shredded (fresh are best, but dried are fine)

3 green chillies, finely chopped (seeds removed if you want less heat)

1 400ml tin of coconut milk

2 tbsp fish sauce

a bunch of fresh coriander, leaves and stalks chopped separately

3 hake fillets, cut into large chunks

200g tin sliced water chestnuts

1 lime, zest and juice


METHOD

Prepare all the ingredients, EXCEPT the lime and chopping the coriander leaves, these should be prepared immediately before serving so they are absolutely at their best.

Heat the oil in a large pan or wok, when hot add the kaffir lime leaves and allow to sizzle for ten seconds or so, then add and stir-fry the shallots, garlic cloves, fresh ginger, lemongrass and green chillies for 2 or 3 minutes until soft and aromatic.

Add the coconut milk and fish sauce and continue to cook for a few minutes until the mixture is just starting to simmer. Now add the chopped coriander stalks.

At this point you can turn the heat off and allow it to sit for a few hours until you are ready to eat. I do this a lot; I tend to make anything with a lot of aromatic ingredients in the afternoon and allow it a few hours for the flavours to really develop, it really does make a difference. You can of course just carry straight on…

Add the water chestnuts and the pieces of hake and gently cook until the fish is just done, this will take no more than a few minutes. Meanwhile, prepare the lime zest and juice, and chop the coriander leaves.

When the fish is done, add the lime juice, sprinkle in the lime zest and coriander leaves and stir thoroughly. Take it to the table and fall in love.

This dish works perfectly with Basmati rice, cooked with the tougher trimmings of the lemongrass stalks. Waste nothing! There is flavour everywhere.

Tip: Back in the days when I could only manage to cook a small handful of simple dishes, the one and only thing that I could cook well was rice. In my hands it always had perfect bite coupled with softness, each grain was distinct and separate from its neighbour and there was no hint of stodginess. Then it all went wrong.

I learned that the way I cooked rice was incorrect. I convinced myself that I should be using exact volumes of rice and water, cooking for exact times, sealing pan lids, leaving it to sit for ages, using tea towels as steam absorbers – the more instructions I followed, the more I got away from the simple pleasures of cooking rice simply, the worse my rice got.

My wife was in despair; “you have lost your rice mojo” she told me. Eventually I did the sensible thing and went back to cooking my rice the wrong way, and now it’s perfect again.

In my world, you put your rice in the largest pan you have and cover it in a lot of cold water, at least an inch of water over the level of the rice. Season the water with a very little salt and over a high heat bring the water up toward boiling point. Before it actually boils, turn the heat right down so that the water settles into a very gentle simmer. This will prevent the rice grains from bursting.

The time it takes your rice to cook can differ greatly, so check your rice after 3 or 4 minutes at the simmer and check it every minute thereafter. Your grains should be soft but with a definite firmness to the grain. Overall, your pan of rice should emerge as clean, distinct grains that will be a pleasure to eat.

Punjabi Chole

It’s been a long and lovely summer, and I have been away enjoying it. I have spent the last month revisiting some of my old recipes, travelling around in our old camper and rediscovering the joys of cooking with minimal equipment and facilities.

I will be sharing my discoveries in the weeks to come, but to get back in the groove here is a very simple, lightly spiced chick pea dish that is very much more than the sum of its parts. When I first saw the recipe I couldn’t believe it would be at all interesting, but my policy is always to make a recipe as it is written and then see how I can improve upon it. I can’t recall where I first saw this, which is a real shame because whoever first wrote it deserves all the credit – I don’t think I have tinkered with it at all, something as delicious as this cannot be improved upon.

The recipe calls for dried chickpeas – canned will do, but I urge you to take the plunge and do this the long way. Preparing the chickpeas the way I describe will give you creamy, delicious chickpeas the like of which you have never, ever tasted, and that’s a promise.

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RECIPE – feeds 2 

150g dried chickpeas

1 tbsp flour

1 tbsp fine sea salt

1 tsp bicarbonate of soda

1 bay leaf

2 cinnamon sticks

2 tbsp ghee (or vegetable oil if making vegan)

1 large onion, finely chopped

2 green chillies, finely chopped (remove the seeds if you don’t want the extra heat)

1 heaped tbsp ginger paste/pureed ginger

a large thumb of fresh ginger, cut into matchsticks

3 garlic cloves, peeled and crushed

1 tsp turmeric

1/2 tsp cinnamon

1 tsp garam masala

1/2 lemon, zest and juice

a big handful of fresh coriander, chopped


METHOD

The evening before, soak the dried chick peas in plenty of water (they will absorb a lot) with 1 tbsp flour, 1 tbsp fine sea salt and 1 tsp of bicarbonate of soda, stir well and set aside.

The next day, rinse the chick peas well, there should be no salt left on them. Put into plenty of water with the bay leaf and cinnamon sticks and bring to the boil, then simmer for 60-90 minutes until they are soft and tender, skimming off any scum if necessary. You may need to add more water as it evaporates. If you have a pressure cooker it will save you a lot of time, cook as per the instructions for your device (mine takes around 25 minutes).

Drain and set aside, removing the bay leaf and cinnamon sticks.

If you are using tinned chickpeas, use two tins; you won’t need the flour, salt, bicarbonate of soda, bay leaf or cinnamon sticks.

Heat the ghee (or oil) in a large pan, when hot cook the onion over a low heat for 10-15 minutes until softened but not coloured. Make a paste out of the turmeric and cinnamon by putting them into a small bowl and adding a little water. Set aside for now.

Add the chillies, the ginger paste, fresh ginger and the garlic and cook for a few minutes longer before adding the turmeric and cinnamon paste. Cook on for a minute, stirring so everything is thoroughly coated, then add the chickpeas. Stir thoroughly again, adding a little water if needed, and cook gently for ten minutes or so.

At this point you can leave the chole to sit for a few hours until you are ready to eat. Giving it time will intensify and soften the flavours.

When ready to eat, warm the chole gently and just before serving stir through the lemon zest and juice, garam masala and fresh coriander.

This is great served alongside Basmati rice, naan bread and carrot and ginger salad.

 

Kedgeree

Curry for breakfast? It may be an acquired taste, but it’s a taste worth acquiring if the dish is interesting and – most importantly – delicious. In my house this is an evening dish, but in truth you could have it at any time of the day.

It is widely believed that kedgeree was brought to the United Kingdom by returning British colonials in Victorian times, who had enjoyed it in India and brought it back as a breakfast dish. There is some evidence that the dish was actually in existence much earlier, as early as 1790 in fact, but that is the nature of cooking – one dish inspires another, recipes evolve and hybridise with others, there is very little that is really new in the world of food. What is certainly true is that Anglo-Indian cuisine first became fashionable under Queen Victoria, a taste that has persisted, strengthened and deepened over the last 150 years.

There are many, many recipes for kedgeree – sometimes I feel as if I have cooked them all. The recipe below may be simple, but it is acclaimed by my family as the best of them all. Everything complements everything else, there are no flashy ingredients, nothing complex to do, just cook and eat.

It looks like there is too much fish in this dish, but kedgeree is a dish that is at its best with a lot of fish – cracking that secret was like discovering the kedgeree holy grail…

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RECIPE – feeds 4

approximately 600ml milk (any kind, for poaching)

2 bay leaves

the stalks from a small bunch of flat-leaf parsley, roughly chopped

1 tsp whole black peppercorns

400g haddock

500g undyed smoked haddock

25g unsalted butter

a large knob of fresh ginger

1 long red chilli, de-seeded and finely chopped

2 garlic cloves, peeled and crushed

1 large onion, peeled and finely sliced

1/2 tsp cayenne pepper

1 heaped tsp turmeric

1/2 tsp freshly grated nutmeg

175g basmati rice

600ml cold water

a handful of sultanas

2 large eggs

freshly squeezed lemon juice

a small bunch of flat-leaf parsley, leaves only, chopped to garnish

lemon wedges to garnish


METHOD

Pre-heat the oven to 180C/ 160C fan/ gas 4.

Put the fish in a large baking dish, skin side up (if it has any) in a single layer if possible. Add the bay leaves, parsley stalks and peppercorns, then add as much milk as necessary to just cover the fish. Cover the dish with baking foil, and ensure the edges of the foil are tucked in tight and sealed. Bake for 16-20 minutes until the fish is just done and starts to flake.

Meanwhile, boil a kettle, add the hot water to a pan and boil the eggs for 8 minutes (until just hard-boiled). Plunge them into cold water to cool, set aside for now. When you come to use them either half or quarter them, as you like.

While the eggs are boiling, melt the butter in a large saucepan over a medium-high heat and add the ginger, chilli and garlic. Cook for a couple of minutes until aromatic, then add the onion and reduce the heat. Cook for a further 6-8 minutes on a medium heat until the onions are softened but not coloured, then add the cayenne pepper, turmeric and nutmeg, stir thoroughly while cooking for a minute, then add the rice and sultanas. Stir again, ensuring that everything is thoroughly coated in everything else, then add the water. Stir and bring to the boil, then simmer for approximately ten minutes until the rice is just al dente.

By this point the fish should be done. Remove from the poaching liquid with a slotted spoon and remove any of the peppercorns that are adhering to it. Remove the skin (if it is there) and flake the fish directly into the rice. Cook it on slightly, stir it in gently and if any more liquid is required then use the poaching liquid to loosen the rice. Check the seasoning and warm a serving platter.

Turn the fish and rice out onto the serving platter, topped with the eggs and roughly chopped flat-leaf parsley leaves. Squeeze half a lemon over everything, and serve with lemon wedges.

Yellow Tarka Dahl

Dahl is perhaps the simplest yet most reliably gorgeous curried dish that you can make. Though lentils have a bad reputation: dismissed as the preserve of hippies and vegans, they are packed with protein, vitamins and trace elements and are low calorie as well. They also make for a very filling dish so they are ideal if you are on any kind of diet. Did I mention that they are delicious?

This dahl is made with chana dahl, which is very similar to the yellow split pea but cooks quite differently. Chana dahl will hold its shape well when cooked, while yellow split peas will go mushy when cooked. That said, for this recipe they are easily interchangeable so substitute one for another if you cannot find chana dahl on your supermarket shelf.

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RECIPE – feeds 3, with rice and a side salad 

250g chana dahl

1 tbsp ghee (or vegetable oil if making it for a vegan)

1 tbsp cumin seeds

1 onion, peeled and diced

3 whole green chillies

a large knob of fresh ginger, cut into matchsticks

3 garlic cloves, peeled and crushed

1 400g tin of chopped tomatoes

1 tsp ground turmeric

2 tsp garam masala

1 tsp hot chilli powder

2 tsp ground coriander

a small bunch of fresh coriander, leaves and stalks, chopped


METHOD

Rinse the lentils thoroughly in three changes of water; the water will turn milky and you will know when they have been sufficiently rinsed because by the third rinse the water will be much clearer.

Cover the lentils with clean water, allowing a good inch of water above the level of the lentils. Bring to the boil, and skim off any scum that forms on the surface. Simmer for around 45-60 minutes, topping up the water as necessary, until the lentils are tender. Drain and set aside.

CAUTION: Do not season the water, the lentils will never be tender if they are salted before they are fully cooked.

If you have a pressure cooker the chana dahl will cook perfectly in around 18 minutes, but consult the instructions for your particular device.

Using a sharp knife, cut four small slits in each whole chilli, this will allow the sauce to penetrate and will flavour the sauce as well as tenderising the chilli. It makes them great to eat whole as part of the dish.

Put the ground turmeric, garam masala, hot chilli powder and ground coriander in a small bowl, add a little water and mix to a paste. Set aside.

Heat the ghee or vegetable oil in a large pan, when hot add the cumin seeds and fry for 30 seconds or so until aromatic, then add the onions, ginger and chillies and fry for 4 or 5 minutes, stirring frequently, until the onions are starting to go brown. Add the spice paste and stir thoroughly so everything is coated.

Meanwhile, put the tinned tomatoes and crushed garlic in a blender and blitz to a puree, then add it to the onion mixture. Combine well, add a further 100ml of water and bring to the boil. Season and simmer for 15 minutes.

Add the cooked lentils to the sauce, adding a little more water if necessary. At this point you can allow the dahl to sit for a few hours so the flavours can infuse.

When ready to eat, heat through thoroughly and garnish with the fresh coriander.

Serve with some plain steamed or boiled basmati rice. This goes perfectly with a side of onion salad.

South Indian Fish Curry with Chick Peas

There is an awful lot of flavour in this delicious, warming curry. It isn’t a fierce curry, instead it is enlivened by layers of spicing and moderated by a little sugar. The real star of the show though is the tamarind; it adds a deep, sour tang to the dish which balances the sweetness without smothering it while the addition of a little lime juice at the end gives it an aromatic freshness. Though I love vindaloo, there is much more to a great curry than just a lot of heat.

The sauce is very bold, so it needs an equally bold flavoured fish, mackerel is easy to obtain and delicious.

A note about the use of fresh ginger: most recipes call for the ginger to be peeled but by doing so you are throwing away a lot of flavour. Instead, ensure the skin is clean, chop away any rough bits and the grey-looking wounds from previous cuts, then chop it keeping the rest of the skin on. You will only know it is there because of the flavour that it brings with it.

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RECIPE – feeds 2

1 tbsp rapeseed oil

1 medium onion, peeled, halved and sliced

1 tsp turmeric

1 tsp black mustard seeds

1/2 tsp cumin seeds

1/4 tsp ground fenugreek

1/2 tsp chilli flakes

a large knob of ginger, trimmed but not peeled, finely chopped

2 garlic cloves, peeled and crushed

1 tin of chopped tomatoes, and 1 tin of water

1 tin of chickpeas

1 fish stock cube

2 tsp tamarind concentrate

1 tsp caster sugar

350g mackerel fillets

lime juice to taste

fresh coriander, stalks and leaves separated, chopped


METHOD

Heat the oil in a large pan, add the onion and sweat under a cartouche for ten minutes or so until softened but not coloured.

*Tip: Sweating vegetables under a piece of parchment is known as using a cartouche. It is a way of cooking that simultaneously sweats and steams the vegetables, extracting maximum flavour in minimum time.

Cut a square of baking parchment that is slightly larger than the surface area of your pan, push it down so it sits on top of your sweating vegetables and then tuck the sides down so the vegetables are completely covered. Keep the heat low and after a few minutes check to see that nothing is catching on the bottom of the pan, then re-cover and continue to sweat them until they are as soft as you need them to be and the aroma is filling your kitchen.

Add the turmeric, black mustard seeds, cumin seeds, ground fenugreek, chilli flakes, ginger and garlic, stir-fry for 30 seconds then pour in the tomatoes, refill the tin with water and pour that in as well, add the chickpeas and crumble the fish stock cube into the sauce. Simmer gently for 20 minutes.

Now add the chopped coriander stalks – never throw the stalks away, again they are full of flavour that you would otherwise lose – stir in the tamarind concentrate and sugar and adjust the balance of the two by adding a little more of either until it is as you like it. Season very carefully with salt and a little ground black pepper.

At this point you can leave the sauce to sit and infuse for a few hours, or overnight. It’s an old cliche that curries taste better the day after, but it’s true. It’s almost as good if you carry straight on though…

With the sauce at a gentle simmer, cut your fish into large chunks and gently push them into the sauce so they are just submerged. Poach gently for around 8 minutes (the exact time will depend on the thickness of your fillets).

Adjust the seasoning if necessary, add a couple of dashes of lime juice (fresh is always best) and garnish with the chopped coriander leaves.

The population seems to divide equally between those who love coriander and those who think it tastes like soap. Personally I love it and use it in huge quantities – in the picture above I have used only a little, but when it went on the table you couldn’t see the sauce for the coriander. It’s best to be aware that some people might not like it before you use it!

This goes very well with steamed or plain boiled basmati rice, and carrot and ginger salad.

Thai Green Prawn Curry with Indian Baby Aubergine

We have lately become addicted to Thai green curry, the creamy, spicy sauce is very vibrant and when mixed with plain steamed or boiled rice makes the most deliciously moreish meal. We could quite happily just knock up a batch of the sauce, pair it with a bowl of rice and tuck in.

With such a promising beginning you can only make it even better by adding more flavours and textures. Flicking through another of my favourite books, ‘Rosa’s Thai Cafe’ by Saiphin Moore, I spotted a green chicken curry that uses pea and Thai aubergines. Interesting.

I have only slightly tweaked Saiphin’s recipe, so credit where it is due. Raw, tail-on king prawns are a match made in heaven for green curry, as is chicken, so use whatever you fancy. I swapped the pea and Thai aubergines for Indian (baby) aubergines, purely because they were the only ‘exotic’ variety available when I popped into my nearest international supermarket. They were perfect, and based on that experience I would recommend that you use whatever aubergines you can find, even the regular large Black Magic variety that are ubiquitous in UK supermarkets. Do try and use the smaller, more interesting looking varieties if you can though, just because they look more interesting. After all, the first bite is always with the eye.

You can have this on the table within 15 minutes from heating the oil, that’s quicker than a takeaway, with much more flavour.

Please, please, please make up your own Thai green curry paste. It is infinitely superior to anything you can buy ready-made in a jar. It freezes well so make up a large batch and put some aside for when you make this again, which you will…

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RECIPE – feeds 2 

1 tbsp vegetable oil

3 tbsp Thai green curry paste

1 400ml tin of coconut milk

1 tbsp of palm sugar or jaggery

2 tbsp fish sauce (nam pla)

3 kaffir lime leaves, fresh or dried, shredded

300g raw, tail-on king prawns or 300g skinless chicken breast in bite-size pieces

100g Indian (baby) aubergines, cut in half

100g cooked bamboo shoots, cut into bite-size pieces

a handful of Thai or regular basil, leaves only, shredded

a couple of sprigs of basil to garnish

2 long red chillies, sliced thinly lengthwise to garnish


METHOD

Heat the oil in a large pan over a high heat and add the green curry paste. Stir-fry for ten seconds or so until it is fragrant, then reduce the heat to medium and add half the coconut milk. Cook for a couple of minutes until the curry paste splits and the oil becomes visible.

Now add the remaining coconut milk, palm sugar, fish sauce and lime leaves. Season carefully, bearing in mind that the fish sauce brings saltiness.

At this point you can remove the sauce from the heat and allow to sit and infuse for a few hours if you wish, this will deepen the flavours. Otherwise, add the aubergines and bamboo shoots and cook for 5-7 minutes until the aubergines are tender. If you are using chicken then add this with the aubergines.

If using the prawns, add them just before serving, along with the shredded basil leaves and cook very gently for a few minutes until the prawns are just pink.

Ladle into serving bowls, garnish with the thinly sliced red pepper and a sprig of basil each, and serve alongside bowls of steamed or boiled rice.