“The unfortunate thing about working for yourself is that you have the worst boss in the world” – David Eddings
When I started this blog I had this rather grand expectation that I would post two or three times a week. That’s what they tell you, the internet people. It’s what they say you need to do to get anybody to read it. Something about search engine optimisation. It’s what you need to do so that you don’t feel like a maniac screaming into the ether every time you publish a post. So I did for a bit. And then it became once a week, and then more like once every three weeks.
It’s not that I’ve just secretly been eating cornish pasties and cakes and have nothing to tell you about. (No, honestly). It’s because I have decided to start a business with an old friend. I’m not actually going to tell you anything about it. You probably don’t care (you’re here for the food aren’t you) but also because it doesn’t launch until later this year and I can’t tell anyone in case it’s a total disaster. So, if you don’t hear me talk about it again let’s just assume, shall we, that I founded Instagram but am just too modest to tell you all? And in the meantime, I’ve resolved to stop being so lame and to post once a week. You can come round and throw something at my head if I fail.
So shall we just get on and talk about this glorious Indian (vegetarian) dinner solution?
A quick glance through the recipe index on this site has revealed a terrible bias toward cooking of the Japanese and South East Asian variety. While it sort of stands to reason – it’s a relatively easy to cut down on dairy and wheat, eat more vegetables and basically stuff my face with miso and ginger – it completely fails to acknowledge that, like any self respecting Brit, I like nothing more than a good curry. Indian food has always been our household takeaway of choice. Not even the very best crispy shredded beef or prawn in black bean sauce could beat a Sunday evening jalfrezi from Holy Cow of Hammersmith.
But then this ‘healthy eating’ thing sort of kicked that all into touch. Indian food felt like a huge indulgence – an unhealthy weekend treat that gradually became a rare occurrence. And it wasn’t just the takeaways – home cooked curries, a regular fixture particularly during the cold months, got dumped in favour of a stir-fry. The culling of the takeaways was probably necessary – I don’t think that many of us can genuinely pretend that the salt, sugar, cream, food colouring neon masalas with a peshwari naan are doing us that many favours if eaten too often. But the ditching the home-cooked stuff too? MADNESS!
Indian, in its true unadulterated un-Westernised state, is one of the healthiest ‘ethnic’ cuisines in the world. The bedrocks of so many Indian dishes – tomatoes, ginger, turmeric, garlic, chilli, aromatic spices – read like a some sort of compilation album of the (allegedly) anti-cancer, anti-inflammatory, anti-everything compounds.
And then there is the ghee it’s often cooked in. Long dumped in the It’s-Going-To-Kill-You saturated fat/dairy dustbin by Westerners, ghee is enjoying a resurgence as nutritionists (and various random unqualified people all over the media) fret about whether the vegetable-based omega-6 rich oils we’ve been pushed towards may be as bad, or worse, than saturated fats such as butter. Slowly, the world seems to be cottoning on to what ayurvedic medicine has thought from thousands of years – ghee, a type of clarified butter, might actually be very good for us. (And if you fancy making your own, Heidi Swanson has that covered at 101 Cookbooks).
If you’re a total dairy dodger and ghee isn’t your thing, many curries (although probably not this one) are about the only place that it’s really acceptable to use that massive tub of coconut oil you bought and can’t quite figure out what to do with. (Another place would be this Rye Banana Bread. You know, if it really needs using up). Southern Indian curries – like the popular Keralan fish curries – are a perfect outlet for the coconut oil lover.
This recipe hails from A Modern Way to Eat by Anna Jones, who trained under Jamie Oliver at Fifteen. It is a book that I am impossibly excited about – really original modern vegetarian recipes that aren’t all based around pasta, cheese and pastry. There are tons of beans and wholegrains, quick and easy dinners and lots of great narrative and flow chart style pages on how to cook the lesser known vegetables, what to combine them with and lots of mix and match ideas for easy sandwiches, soups, pastas and salads.
I am a complete sucker for rainbow chard – the neon stems mean I end up buying it every time I come across it in the supermarket or farmers market but I never really did much with it beyond serving it as a side dish. Cooked like this, with the potatoes to bulk it out, it makes a brilliant meat-free dinner served with natural yoghurt, mango chutney and some sort of flatbread (chapati or roti ideally). If you avoiding gluten, this would also be good shovelled up with a poppadom or five. And beer. There must be beer.
In my book, chard is always better sauteed or braised with a little liquid like this – something slightly revolting occurs to the texture of the leaves when it is boiled or steamed for too long. Sauteing also allows it to take on more flavour (I usually fry it with a little garlic and chilli). The other trick to remember with chard is that, unless very young with thin stems, the leaves and stems should be cooked for different lengths of time – particularly in the case of Swiss chard with its wider tougher (and tastier) creamy white stems. The leaves really only need a brief introduction to heat (albeit slighty more than spinach) whereas the stalks need a least 3-4 minutes blanching in boiling water or a long braise like they get here.
LEMON CHARD ALOO
(adapted from A Modern Way to Eat by Anna Jones)
Crazy Ingredient Rating: Low (if you can’t find black mustard seeds, yellow is fine. Spinach can be substituted for chard)
You can switch the chard for spinach if you prefer, in which there is no need to separate the leaves from the stems (obviously) and it should all be added right at the end (when the chard leaves would go in) and cooked for a minute or so until just wilted. I really recommend chard here as it stands up the flavours a bit more and I find that spinach can become slightly slimy in sag aloo. But maybe that is just me.
The original recipe used half a bunch of chard for 2 people – I used a whole bunch (approx 300g) as I needed to use it up and liked the chard/potato ratio that we ended up with. But you could cut it back if you prefer less greenery.
Top tip: read the recipe and only add 1 teaspoon of mustard seeds and not one tablespoon as I did – see photo above. You’ll have fun picking them out again once you realise your mistake…
For 2, you will need:
- 1-2 tbsp ghee (groundut oil is fine too and makes this dairy-free)
- 1 tsp black mustard seeds
- 1 red onion, finely sliced
- 3 cm piece of ginger, peeled and finely chopped
- 1 clove of garlic, finely sliced
- 1/2-1 red chilli, deseeded and finely chopped
- 1/2 tsp cumin seeds
- 1/2 tsp turmeric
- 350g waxy potatoes, washed and cut into approximately 1cm cubes
- 1 bunch chard (approx 300g), large leaves roughly chopped and stems cut into 1cm slices
- 1 lemon, preferably unwaxed (or scrubbed well if not)
- small bunch coriander, roughly chopped
To serve: natural yoghurt, mango chutney and warm indian breads or poppodums (see above).
- Heat 1 tbsp of ghee or oil in a large frying pan, which has a lid. When hot, add the mustard seeds. They will spit and pop at you like mad so stand back. Let them crackle away for a minute until just fragrant.
- Turn the heat down to medium and add the onions, ginger, chilli, cumin seeds and turmeric. Cook for 7-8 minutes until the onions are just soft, adding the garlic after 3 minutes.
- Add the potatoes, the chard stalks and a big pinch of salt and cover with 150ml water. Put the lid on and cook for 30-35 minutes until the potatoes have cooked. Check at intervals and add a little more water if it is drying out.
- Throw in the chard leaves and cook for 2-3 more minutes, until they have wilted down. Again, you may need to add a little more water when adding the chard if the potato mixture looks like it is quite dry.
- Take off the heat and grate over the zest of 1/4 of the lemon and squeeze over the juice of half. Check for seasoning – it will probably need a good pinch or two of sea salt. Throw over the coriander and serve.
Kitchen Song of the Day: Brimful of Asha (Norman Cook Remix) – Cornershop