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Sunday Spice

This Sunday, to coincide with my birthday trip home to London, I managed to organise an extended family lunch with both brothers, both cousins and all three partners. No mean feat. DS and I were in town from Paris for a limited time only, and as ever our social schedule was jam packed. Newly weds cousin baker and wife came direct from a weekend in Belgium where they had sailed as part of an artist friend's project to map out the various genealogies of global wheat strains (yep). Brother Number 1 would arrive late from his first footie match as CAPTAIN of his school veteran team (yep) and cousin Eve would also come from football (she later explained that 'football' was a generous term, and in fact it was really, 'lots of girls running around after a ball'). Brother Number 2 and the lovely EM had to leave early to head off to evening drinks in Soho, and DS and I were expected down the road for an early dinner with friends. The window was small.

For geographical reasons we chose my brothers' flat for a venue, and I offered to cook as most people were tied up in the morning. In case I needed an excuse to commandeer someone else's kitchen. We had one vegetarian in the party, and I wasn't feeling flush enough to fork out on fish for everyone. Vegetable curry seemed a good, warming option, easy to do for a crowd with a few helpful peelers and choppers in tow. Pudding would be a humble plum crumble, lightly spiced with cinnamon - an easy pudding for numbers.

Come the morning, DS and I were feeling decidedly ropey after a raucous 70th birthday party the night before (yep). The birthday boy had still been going strong when we'd stumbled out at 2am. What an inspiration. We skulked our way through the grey drizzle (it had been SUCH a struggle to get DS out of bed) to the local organic veg stall where I filled our basket with enough fresh produce to feed a small army.

What I didn't think through was how much vegetables for eight people would weigh. Especially as I have a habit of over-catering. I left laden with a butternut squash, two sweet potatoes, two oversized onions, garlic, 3 stems of broccoli, tomatoes, baby corns, aubergine, spinach and plums. With the loot carefully packed in my backpack, I struggled snail-like through London's tube and bus network. Of course the tube we needed was closed for weekend renovations; rail replacement services on a hang-over are DREADFUL. DS made the observation that it might have been simpler to buy the ingredients when we arrived. Perhaps.

Luckily we weren't the only ones to be delayed by the weekend travel havoc, meaning that the curry was ready at the optimum moment. The spicy bowls of colourful goodness were just the thing to warm our cockles on a too-quickly darkening day (thank you daylight saving time). We did spot one surprising flash of colour through the window. The local colony of tropical parrots (yep) came home to roost in the tree outside, a shock of electric green in an otherwise grey city scape. Perhaps they could smell the coconut milk.

Sorry no beautiful pics this week. Too busy yapping.


Vegetable curry with coriander rice and cucumber raita

Serves a very hungry 8, takes about 60 minutes

autumn / winter / nothing fancy / vegetarian / vegan (without the raita) / main / easy peasy / gluten free / party / on a budget / dairy free (without the raita)

You can put any vegetables you fancy into this recipe. Things like squash, lentils, potatoes and chickpeas (if raw) need to go in first, then gradually add things according to their cooking time. I didn't have room in the pan to add the broccoli I'd bought, but it would be a nice addition.

* Onion - 2 large, peeled and diced

* Garlic - 6 cloves, peeled and sliced

* Ginger - 3 thumb sized pieces, peeled and chopped

* Vegetable /sesame/ coconut oil - 2 tbsp

* Turmeric - 2 tsp

* Cumin - 3 tsp

* Ground coriander - 3 tsp

* Chilli - 3 red birdseye, finely chopped (add at the table if you're cooking for a babe)

* Butternut squash - 1, peeled, deseeded and chopped into 2cm cubes

* Sweet potato - 1 large, peeled and chopped into 2cm cubes

* Beef tomatoes - 4, diced

* Coconut milk - 3 tins

* Aubergine - 1 large, cut into 3cm cubes

* Baby corn - 8

* Baby spinach - 500g

* Lime - juice of 1 1/2

* Fresh coriander - 1 1/2 bunches, chopped (it's fine to use the stalks here)

* Basmati rice - 600g (allow about 75g each)

For the raita

* Natural or greek yogurt - 500g

* Cucumber - 1, peeled and chopped into small pieces

* Fresh coriander - 1/2 bunch

* Lime - juice of 1/2

In a very large pan, fry all the ingredients as far as the chilli on a medium high heat. Cook for about ten minutes, until the onion has softened, stirring often. Add a few splashes of water during cooking to stop things sticking.

Meanwhile prepare the rice. Rinse in cold water a few times and then soak in cold water. Set aside.

Next add the squash, sweet potato and tomatoes to the curry, and stir well to mix evenly. Add the coconut milk, 500ml of water, season with salt and bring to a simmer. Cook for fifteen minutes. Next add the aubergine, corn, the juice of 1 lime and a bunch of coriander. Check for seasoning and spice. Here's where to add more chilli, salt or lime if needed. Simmer for another ten minutes, or until you are ready to serve.

Meanwhile cook the rice. Rinse once more in cold water and place in a large pan with double the volume of cold water to rice. Bring to the boil, then reduce the temperature to a simmer. Cover the pan and cook for ten minutes. Remove the pan from the heat, keeping the lid on, and leave to steam for a further five minutes.

While the rice is steaming, put together the raita by mixing all the ingredients together in a large bowl.

Remove the lid from the rice pan and gently fork through the rice to separate the grains. It should be light and fluffy, with all the liquid evaporated. Add the juice of half a lime and the remaining chopped coriander.

Serve the curry in a bowl over a portion of rice, with a dollop of raita on the side.

Spiced Plum Crumble

Serves 8, takes 15 minutes, plus oven time

dessert / autumn / winter / nothing fancy / easy peasy / hands free / party / on a budget

Again, use whatever fruits you have to hand here. Apples, pears, peaches, blackberries...

* Plums - 16, halved and de-stoned

* Golden caster sugar - 200g

* Butter - 200g, at room temperature, cut into cubes

* Flour - 200g

* Salt - a pinch

* Porridge Oats - 200g

* Cinnamon - 2 tbsp

Preheat the oven to 180 degrees C. Pack the fruit into the base of a large oven dish. Using your fingers, combine the butter, sugar, flour and salt in a large bowl. When you have an even mix, add the oats and cinnamon and incorporate them evenly into the dough. Sprinkle the crumble evenly over the fruit. Bake in the oven for 25 - 30 minutes, until the fruit is soft and the crumbled nicely browned.

Serve with cream or ice cream. And yes, it is acceptable to have both. We wondered.


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