There’s been rather a lot of Christmas food about, even for someone who didn’t cook the Christmas dinner and therefore has no turkey leftovers! Thus I felt in need of something completely different tonight, touching on the healthy. I generally eat healthily. In my eclectic working life, part of it is spent as an alternative health therapist and thus I have to be aware of the importance of healthy eating and what constitutes ‘healthy’. But while I buy mostly organic, source my meat and fish responsibly, and eat lots of fresh fruit and vegetables, I’m not interested in ‘health foods’. Maybe it’s my age and memories of health food restaurants popping up everywhere in the late 1970s and people eating nut roasts and vegetables without salt. When it comes to food the ‘gourmet’ of my blogging name shines through and I want the real thing. I always eat butter and never margarine, not only for taste but because much evidence shows it’s better for us. I have a strong attachment to my salt cellar filled with Maldon sea salt and if I want to eat vegetarian – as I did tonight – I’d never dream of buying anything made of non-meat substances purporting to be sausages or some kind of meat cutlet.
I was rummaging through a file of recipes the other day, looking for one in particular. This is a file of recipes cut from newspapers or magazines over the years and even going back to pre-computer days. Yes, that long ago! Over 30 years ago when I was a young editor commissioning and editing a lot of cookbooks, one of my authors Robin Howe, after I’d stayed with her at her home in Italy, sent me some typed recipes of food I’d enjoyed while with her. Going back not so far, I have quite a few Nigel Slater recipes torn from copies of the Observer. There’s a chicken curry from 2001 which is pretty much the only curry I normally make. If I say to my family I’m making ‘my chicken curry’ they know what to expect. There’s a crumble recipe from 1999 which IS the only crumble topping I ever make. And then a couple of days ago I found a ‘Quick Vegetable Curry’ of Nigel’s using aubergines and tomatoes, in a cutting from 2009, that I’d never got round to trying. A decision was made. Though I did tamper with it a bit (sorry Nigel!) by not cooking the aubergines separately before adding them to the mix, and adding some chickpeas on a whim. But the basic idea and the spices and seasonings are Nigel’s. I don’t cook curry often enough to have come up with them myself!
Two shiny aubergines came back from the supermarket with me this morning. The first thing to do is quarter them lengthwise and then chop into large pieces. Put them in a colander, sprinkle with salt and leave for about half an hour to draw out the bitter juices.
Meanwhile, skin and roughly chop 6 tomatoes, 2 medium onions, 2-3 cloves garlic, and peel and cut a 5cm piece of fresh ginger into fine shreds.
Next I did go slightly ‘health foodie’ by using coconut oil instead of the suggested groundnut oil. Having read about the amazing health-giving properties coconut oil is said to possess I bought a jar in my local health store. The added benefit of using it here, apart from it coping with high heat well, is that it brought a lovely coconut taste to the curry too. I put a very heaped dessertspoon into my pan and gently cooked the onion, garlic and ginger in it till the onion was transparent.
Then I added about 1/2 teaspoon chilli flakes, 2 teaspoons turmeric, 2 level teaspoons ground cumin seeds and 8 cardamon pods (crushed and seeds used, throwing away pods). I gave this a good stir then added the aubergine pieces (salt washed off and dried). I let this cook for a few minutes, stirring frequently, until the aubergine pieces were nicely covered with the spices and starting to go very slightly brown.
They do of course soak up fat fast, so if necessary add a little oil but don’t have the pan swimming in oil – keep it fairly dry. Now add the chopped tomatoes and a 400g tin of chickpeas, drained. Pour in enough water to just cover the vegetables. Season with some salt and black pepper and bring to the boil, then turn down and simmer gently for about 30-40 minutes until the aubergine is cooked through.
Check seasoning and add a nice handful of chopped fresh coriander. Pop the lid back on and cook for just a couple of minutes more so the coriander wilts into the curry.
Ladle portions into a bowl and top with some natural yogurt and some chopped coriander. I served the curry with some brown basmati rice. And a nice small bottle of chilled beer!
It was really, really delicious. This isn’t a ‘curry powder’ tasting curry; it isn’t a ‘Friday-night with beers curry’; this is a wonderful richly spiced and fragrant dish which with the fresh tomatoes and the citrusy ginger, has a fantastic fresh taste. It was absolutely perfect for what is a windy, rainy winter’s evening. And a comforting dish for someone who has been working quite hard most of the day (at the ‘day job’) and wanted something warming to eat. And this recipe made lots, so I have at least two to three portions to freeze for another day.