Monday, 24 July 2017

Aromatic courgette curry

So it's another recipe for meat-free days. I went into some of the environmental arguments for going vegetarian in my last blog entry but one real advantage for eating vegie is that it's just much cheaper than meat. It's not that I'm pleading poverty, and I've no intention of giving up meat any time soon, but there is something great about knocking up something like this which costs next to fuck all and takes little more than an hour.

I've twatted on about courgetttes and how great they are in a previous post, but what I was unaware of is that this humble vegetable is another import from the Americas. So, along with peppers, chillies and tomatoes, which were also brought over from the New World, European and Asian cuisine would have been so fucking dull before the Conquistadors made it to America. They also brought back syphilis, so, I guess that's a case of swings and roundabouts. And let's not forget that chocolate also came from the New World, so, on balance, it's a win for white Europeans, in addition to the devastation they wreaked on the native civilisations and the population as a whole on the other side of the Atlantic. We got a whole new pantry full of ingredients, they got genocide.

OK, we'll swap you horses, the wheel and Catholicism for the contents of your gardens

Preparation: 10 minutes
Cooking: 50 minutes

1 tbsp vegetable oil
1 tsp ground tumeric
1 whole star anise
1 tsp ground coriander
3 cloves
4 whole green cardamom pods
1 tsp ground cumin
½ tsp whole fennel seeds
1 bay leaf
1 10cm piece cinnamon stick
pinch ground black pepper
pinch  dried chilli flakes
1 small onion, roughly chopped
1 thumb-sized piece of ginger, chopped
2 cloves of garlic, crushed
1 large courgette, topped, tailed and sliced
2 medium tomatoes, peeled and chopped
100ml water
1 tbsp tomato puree
More spices
(clockwise from 12 o'clock: ground cumin, bay leaf, tumeric, cinnamon stick, ground coriander, star anise, cloves, chilli flakes, black pepper, cardamom pods with fennel seeds in the middle)

Heat the oil in a pan and add the spices for 2 minutes.

Throw in the onion, ginger and garlic, and fry gently for 10 minutes.

Add the courgette and stir-fry for another 5 minutes.

Add the tomatoes and water, stir then add salt to taste.

Bring to a boil, turn down the heat and simmer for 30 minutes

Serve with rice

Ready to eat 
(on right of plate with aloo gobi on left on a bed of plain, boiled basmati rice)

 This is a great dish to serve with aloo gobi that I posted a recipe for recently. This uses more earthy flavoured spices which contrast well with the richly fragrant nature of this courgette curry.

Courgettes are members of the pumpkin/squash family, the cucurbit. It's not all about versatile vegetables, mind. This family also contains the penis gourd which has made an appearance in this blog in a previous post.I'm not sure who dreamed up the idea, but they must have had a pretty eccentric outlook.
"That's a funny looking vegetable. Does it taste nice?"
"Not really. Not sure what to do with it"
"Well, if you dry it out it would make a great cover for your cock"

A decorative penis gourd from Papua New Guinea

Monday, 17 July 2017

Aloo gobi (potato and cauliflower curry)

I have mentioned vegetarianism in previous posts, how I even tried being a vegetarian as a pretentious student. What I didn't mention then was that the reason for this was, in part, to get on the good side of a girl who was in the same student hall as me that I quite fancied. It's a scientifically proven fact* that most guys who perform a coup de theatre in terms of lifestyle in their late teens, like turning away from meat for instance, are generally doing it to get into the pants of someone they like. Anyway, at the time, my justification was the poor yield of protein per hectare from raising livestock for food compared to arable farming which was morally wrong when people were starving in the world. Using this justification I could then allow eating lamb doner kebabs as sheep were raised on scrubby hills that had no use in growing vegetables, and fish, since this was mainly gotten from out of water.The spell of vegetarianism lasted for a few weeks before I lapsed back into eating meat properly. A legacy of this time is the fact that I have absolutely no qualms about eating vegetarian food on a regular basis.

More recently, it has become well publicised that meat production leaves a far larger carbon footprint than growing vegetables alone. While it's true that most people in the west have larger carbon footprints than a sasquatch in snow shoes that are five sizes too big, and any change in diet would have a pretty minute effect on this, it still gives a chance to prevent the liberation of a tiny amount of additional carbon into the atmosphere. There are other ways to reduce your carbon footprint, like not flying, having children, having pets or driving a car, but who wants to stop doing any of that?

One of the main causes of the increased carbon emission through raising livestock is the effect of intestinal gas from cattle. Cow farts are making the world a warmer place as they release methane which is 23 times worse at causing atmospheric warming than carbon dioxide. One possibility to offset this might be to stop the cows farting in the first place and one way of doing this is using charcoal. Perhaps giving Ermintrude a load of charcoal tablets might help alleviate this source of pollution. It may even have the added bonus of the cows shitting ready-formed BBQ briquettes, so everyone's a winner. Well, apart from the cows, who would be producing the fuel by which they would be cooked of a nice summer evening.

Charcoal tablets
A possible solution to global warming

So where am I going with this? Well, it's another vegetarian recipe as I am planning a regular meat free dinner every week. India has more vegetarians than the population of most countries, so it's not surprising that some of the very best vegetarian cuisine comes from the subcontinent.

I have done a recipe for another potato curry previously, but this is a take on an aloo gobi, where the spud is partnered with cauliflower in one of the tastiest vegetable curries found on the menu of an Indian takeaway. As I mentioned before, potatoes have enough substance to them to make a decent main course in their own right, plus the lentils add extra protein and make for an even more substantial meal.

*It probably isn't scientifically proven, but I've not looked at the literature so it might be.

Preparation: 15 minutes
Cooking: 70 minutes

150g dried red lentils
200g cauliflower florets broken into bite-sized pieces
450g potatoes, peeled and cut into 2-3cm cubes
1 medium onion, sliced
4 cloves of garlic, crushed
1 tsp ground coriander
1 tsp ground cumin seeds
½ tsp whole fenugreek seeds
½ tsp ground black pepper
½ tsp black mustard seeds
½ tsp onion seeds
1 tsp paprika
1 tsp ground tumeric
pinch of chilli flakes

It's another spice picture
(from 10 o'clock: coriander, black pepper, mustard seeds, chilli flakes, cumin seeds, fenugreek seeds, onion seeds with paprika in the middle)

Boil the lentils for 20 minutes, strain and set aside.

Heat the oil in a good, heavy pan and add the spices, onion and garlic and gently fry for 10 minutes.

Add the potatoes and continue to fry for another 10 minutes.

Throw in the cauliflower and keep stirring for another 5 minutes.

Add the lentils to the pan and add 200ml water and salt according to taste.

Bring to the boil, cover, lower the heat and simmer for 30 minutes (until the potatoes become tender).

Serve with rice and/or naan bread, on its own or with another curry or two
 Aloo gobi 
(on the left, with a courgette curry on a bed of plain boiled rice)

In contrast to most of my previous curry recipes, this dish uses lots of earthy rather than the more aromatic spice flavours and doesn't have a tomato base. It is a good contrast to these if you are serving more than one dish

I used floury old potatoes in this recipe as the texture works better than new potatoes.

A cow farts aren't the only trump that cause a stink and fucks up the world.

Traditionally, cauliflower has been a fairly unassuming vegetable, being boiled on its own or perhaps upping the ante a little with cauliflower cheese, the vegetarian staple of the 70s. However, cauliflower is currently having a bit of a surge in popularity as a "low carb" food and is finding uses as a substitute for rice, pizza base or even steak. Why stop there? How about cauliflower chocolate brownies, cauliflower yoghurt, cauliflower flavoured condoms? It's fucking cauliflower for Christ's sake. It's a lovely vegetable in its own right and doesn't need to be given superpowers. However, if you are using it in some other dish, I would say that aloo gobi is as good as it gets.

There aren't a huge number of songs that mention curries in general, let alone aloo gobi in particular. One that does, however, is this spoof of Kula Shaker's Govinda, by former Radio 1 DJs Mark and Lard performing as their band the Shire Horses.

Thursday, 13 July 2017

Laksa (Leftover Symphonies 5)

The US sitcom from the late 70s/early 80s, Taxi, was a launchpad for several actors including Danny DeVito, Christopher Lloyd and Marilu Henner. It also starred established comedian, the late Andy Kaufman, who is widely regarded, amongst the comednicenti (ie those that know comedy), as a true genius. He played an immigrant from an unmentioned Eastern European country called Latka in the show. Otherwise, latkas are potato pancakes made as part of Hannukah celebrations in the Jewish community and are not to be confused with the subject of this recipe, laksa.

It's difficult to categorise laksa. Is it a soup? Is it noodles? Is it a curry? Fuck knows, but it's bloody lovely. It's southeast Asia in a bowl.

Comfort food varies around the world. As I mentioned in a previous post, in the UK it's usually soup (very often out of a can) or hearty stews. Laksa ticks many of the boxes necessary to qualify as the comfort food of the Malay Peninsula: noodles; rich, thick gravy; lots of vegetables; and a good bit of spice. It couldn't provide any more comfort if it was down-quilted and gave you a shot of muscle relaxant. Like this recipe for vindaloo I posted previously, the dish is another bit of natural fusion as the dish derives from ethnic Chinese people settling in the Straits towns of the peninsula and incorporating local ingredients. It's a staple of Peranakan food which is a particularly eclectic cuisine combining influences from China, Malaysia, Indonesia, Thailand and the European colonisers (Dutch, British and Portuguese).

This is yet another way of using up some leftovers, this time the remains of a roast chicken but you could do it with fresh chicken or seafood, particularly some big, juicy, shell-on prawns.

Preparation:20 mins
Cooking: 1 hour 45 mins

3 cakes of dried egg noodles
1 tbsp oil (neutrally flavoured like rapeseed or sunflower)
1 leftover carcass of a roast chicken (with plenty of meat, a good 150g or more)
4 small shallots, peeled and sliced
1 carrot, roughly diced
1 stick of celery, roughly chopped
3 cloves garlic, crushed
1 stalk of lemon grass, chopped
1 thumb-sized piece fresh tumeric root, chopped (or 1 tsp dried)
2 thumb-sized piece ginger, chopped
4 red chillies, whole
1 whole star anise
5 cloves
1 tsp whole black peppercorns
1 stick of cinnamon (approx 5cm)
2 chicken stock cubes
200ml tinned coconut milk
1 lime,juiced and husks retained
2 tbsp sugar
2 tbsp fish sauce
10 cherry tomatoes
100g okra, topped and tailed and cut into 2cm chunks
3 large mushrooms, sliced

Cook the noodles according to the instructions.

Drain and set aside

Pick the chicken meat off the carcass and set both the meat and the bones aside.

Heat 1 tbsp oil in a large pan and add the shallots, carrot and celery and fry until soft (around 10 minutes).

Add the garlic, lemon grass, tumeric, ginger, chillies and dry spices and continue to gently fry for another 5 minutes.

Place the stock cubes and chicken bones into the pan, add 1.5l water, heat to boiling, cover and simmer for 45 minutes

Remove the chicken bones and blend the broth until smooth

Return to the hob and add the coconut milk, fish sauce, lime juice, sugar and lime husks.

Throw in the remaining vegetables and stir

Boil and simmer for another 30 minutes.

Refresh the noodles by running them under cold water

Add the noodles to the soup and stir to warm through

Makes enough for a good working week's worth of lunches or would make a decent dinner for four people.

Fresh tumeric is another wanky, foodie ingredient that is not usually that easy to come by in the UK. I used it in this dish as I had some left over, having bought some for another dish I had planned. Use dried as a replacement. The fresh root looks like the picture below.
Fresh tumeric root
Looks like ginger or maggots

image from

Tumeric is currently touted as a miracle food that can cure all sorts of shit, including cancer, heart disease and, aptly enough, diarrhoea. Though there is some evidence it contains some potentially active compounds, a recent scientific review suggests these claims are largely bollocks. Besides which, if it does to your insides what it does to a cotton T-shirt, it's actually going to fuck you up. The number of tops I've had to discard because of yellow stains from curry is nobody's business. Of course, feel free to take a good dose when you've got a cold and you'll feel much better, as long as you back it up with a Lemsip.

I used tomatoes, mushrooms and okra in this recipe, but these vegetables could be substituted for others like aubergine, green beans or peppers. You can also substitute light soy for the fish sauce.

Having mentioned Andy Kaufman, I really need to link to this song by REM:

Man in the Moon by REM