All the Children’s Commissioner’s work is driven by what children told us is important to them
Tonight, after a few weeks of new-veganism, I knocked up this hottie in my little kitchen. (I should rewrite that, but I’m not going to.) I have been working my way through a list of curries recently, partly for my new book, Cooking On A Bootstrap, partly for a challenge, as I had a jokey conversation with a few friends on Instagram about doing ‘a year of curry’, and partly because there are so many things I enjoy but have never tried to cook myself. And so tonight, vindaloo. ***My apologies for not costing this already but I can barely keep my eyes open, it’s 2am here, but I wanted to share this before I forget it and it gets swept into ‘recipes I mean to blog’. Forgive me, I will do the forensics later.
I delved into one of my curry bibles, Camellia Panjabi’s ’50 Great Curries of India’ and of course, there on page 102, was a vindaloo recipe. Admittedly with lamb, but I substitute lamb for aubergine in recipes as a rule, and I rolled up my sleeves and started to make notes. The original recipe called for cinnamon, an innocuous storecupboard staple that I had donated to my Nan a few days before, for her roast potatoes, no less. (And I always wondered what made them so special!) And cloves, that I bought for Christmas and couldn’t find anywhere, the blighters. I last remember crunching on a few in the bathroom to deal with a toothache, but they weren’t in there either. Mind you, I no longer have the nefarious toothache, so perhaps in my delirious agony I munched the lot. Anyway, I replaced the cloves and cinnamon with nutmeg and cardamom, both delicious. I have allowed for either in the recipe.
If you don’t like aubergine, use mushrooms instead. Red lentils could easily be kidney beans, baked beans, black beans, brown or green lentils, or yellow split peas; whatever you have in the cupboard or like. They are here to add texture and protein; all the other flavour speaks for itself, or rather, shouts and sings and dances.
Serves 2-4 depending on appetite:
6 fat cloves of garlic
1-2 tsp chilli flakes
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp cumin
1/4 of a star anise or an 1/8 tsp fennel seeds
a good grind of black pepper, and then another one
2 tbsp tomato puree
2 tbsp vinegar or lemon juice
1 large aubergine or 2 small ones
100g red lentils
First peel and finely slice your onions and toss into a pan with a little oil. Bring to a low heat to start to soften the onions, and add the garlic cloves, whole and peeled. Dice the aubergine and add to the pot, stirring all to disturb and stop it from sticking and burning.
Add your spices, but only half of your chosen quantity of chilli. It is easy to add to, but rather more difficult to temper down if you misjudge it, so I put half the chilli in to cook, and leave half to garnish. It means guests and dining partners can choose their own heat, too, which is ideal if everyone is a little different. So, add the cinnamon, cumin, star anise or fennel, and pepper, and stir well to combine. Add half a cup of water to the pan, and crank up the heat. It doesn’t look brilliant right now but trust me, it gets better.
Thoroughly rinse your lentils. In a separate pan, cover them with water – no salt or the lentils will take an age to cook – and bring to the boil. I was initially tempted to throw them into the pot to make this a one-pot dinner, but lentils produce so much ‘scum’ that rises to the top of the pan, I didn’t want to mar my beautiful adventure, so doubled my washing up… When the water is boiling, reduce to a simmer for around 12 minutes until soft and swollen. Drain, rinse well to knock off the scum, and tip into the first pan.
Add the tomato and vinegar and stir well. Bring to the boil, then reduce to a simmer, stirring slowlly and therapeutically every now and then. It should take around 10 more minutes to meld into this glossy, orange, spicy goodness, and the liquid should thicken to an unctuous sauce. If it is too watery for your liking, bring it back to boil, then reduce the heat and cook a little more. If the thought of 10 more minutes on the gas worries you, give it all a thorough stir, remove from the heat and cover with a plate or foil or baking tray for 20 mins. It takes a little longer but by insulating some of the heat, it will continue to cook and thicken as it cools.
And ta-dah, you’re done! I served mine with a pile of spinach and ate an awful lot of it, fresh in from a 6 mile run and ravenous, but it would be delicious with simple boiled rice to make it go a little further.