When it comes to Italian and Middle Eastern food – which are pretty much what I cook most of the time – I’m quite purist. I like to search for the most authentic recipe, seek out a bit of history for traditional dishes, and will spend time ‘getting it right’ as far as I can. However, when it comes to curry and pizza, both of which I love, they’re food I prefer to go out for. I can make, I think, a reasonable pizza at home (even for 14 at a hen-do!) but I know that no matter how much time and effort I put into making the dough and buying the best ingredients for the topping, there is absolutely no way I can make a really good pizza at home in my oven. The best pizza requires a wood-fired pizza oven to get the best flavour and texture – not to mention an expert pizzaiolo/a (a special pizza chef). And I think pizza should be eaten straight away, straight from the oven, which is why I never order a takeaway. Anyway, with two brilliant pizzerias, run by Italians, within walking distance of my house (see Masaniello and Ruben’s Refettorio), why would I even want to try. Yes, I know I’m privileged so maybe if I was living somewhere more remote, I’d be happy with a lesser pizza, but when I have the best on my doorstep, then I’ve no incentive to make my own.
Indian takeaway is something I do have quite often. I love going to Tangawizi, my favourite local Indian restaurant, but we often as a family have takeaways from them too; sometimes I even have one on my own. Especially on a cold winter’s evening, tucked up on my sofa watching something non-demanding like Strictly or perhaps a more exciting (for me) Inspector Montalbano. While I really love Indian food, I rarely attempt to make it. I went through a Madhur Jaffrey phase back in the late ’70s to early ’80s. But the truth is, a bit like that pizza oven, to make a really good curry you need lots of spices and they need to be fresh. Those little pots that have been sitting on the spice rack collecting dust for a couple of years, just won’t do. So, if you regularly cook Indian food, then fine, but if you only occasionally want to make a curry, then you’ll likely find you have to buy new little pots each time … and those little pots will sit there quietly, gathering dust, and you’ll throw them out in a year’s time when that curry-cooking fancy comes over you again and you buy some more.
Back in April 2001, the brilliant Nigel Slater gave a recipe for ‘Chicken with spices and cream’ in the Observer Food Monthly – basically a chicken curry. Apart from being wonderfully simple and delicious, it solved the little pot problem for all I needed was some good curry powder (newly opened of course!) and some cinnamon (which I use quite a bit in other things, so is always fresh in my house). I became so addicted to this recipe that whenever I tell my family I’m making a curry, they know this is what they’ll get! I happened to buy some chicken in the supermarket yesterday morning with no particular meal in mind. But as I have a cold, as always happens, I crave something spicy. So Nigel’s recipe was pulled from my old file of collected recipes. I had 2 chicken breasts so thought I’d eat one portion and freeze the other. Then there was a last-minute arrangement to feed Lyndsey and Freddie as well. Grandson Freddie at only two and a half is a great fan of Tangawizi curries. Hopefully he’d like mine too, even though I can’t really pretend it’s in the same league. But I needed to stretch it a bit and I didn’t have more chicken. So I added a small (130g) tin of chickpeas and a handful of peas (I have a bit of an addiction to frozen peas; memories of childhood, I think, but also Keema Peas from Tangawizi is a favourite). Apart from those additions, I strayed only slightly from Nigel’s, and used coconut oil instead of butter and oil, but the recipe is pretty much the same as the original, though halved.
Very Simple Chicken Curry – 2-3 portions
- 1 medium onion, sliced with the grain
- 1 tablespoon coconut oil
- 2 chicken breasts (or use thighs if you prefer), cut into bite-sized pieces
- 1 clove garlic, crushed
- 1 tablespoon curry powder
- ½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
- salt and freshly ground black pepper
- 2 large tomatoes, skinned and core removed
- 130g tin chickpeas, drained
- handful frozen peas
- 125ml chicken stock
- juice of ½ lemon
- 50ml single cream
- handful chopped coriander
Slice the onion and put in a large frying pan with the coconut oil (or use other oil if you prefer, but the coconut is great for curries). When the onion has softened, add the chicken pieces.
Brown the chicken all over then add the garlic, curry powder, cinnamon and season with salt and pepper. Give a good stir and cook for a couple of minutes to bring out the flavour of the spices.
Now add the tomatoes, chickpeas, peas, and chicken stock.
Stir well, bring to a boil, turn down and simmer for 15 minutes. Turn off the heat. Add the lemon juice, cream and coriander. Stir gently. Check seasoning. Then it’s ready to serve.
I served it with wilted spinach and some brown basmati rice, but serve with naan if you prefer. It met Freddie’s approval and received a shouted ‘yum’. He wasn’t too keen on the spinach though …