Tuesday, 30 November 2010

Time for curry

With the early-season snow having finally started descending on London overnight, the question of dinner reared its head over lunchtime coffee, under the awning and heater of the pub opposite work.

The trouble is that The Other Half wants to do the northern European bit even more than me. I'm all for comfort Рindeed, I was mulling over the idea of a velout̩ sauce with poached smoked haddock and mushrooms, to be served with pasta.

To me, that sounds warming, soothing and comforting. To The Other Half, it apparently doesn't. With hefty snowdrops swirling their way onto the table, he declared emphatically that pasta is "a southern food" and he's a northern boy needing northern food.

With BBC4 having got their German season underway yesterday, I'm tempted to finish the current jar of sauerkraut – but what with? Bratwurst or franks? Don’t get me wrong, I love such things, but we had sausages last night and I do like to avoid eating meat every day.

So just what can I get away with that avoids meat but is considered suitably warming by The Other Half? What about curry – a vegetable curry?

I've never been a particular curry hound – although these days, we live within walking distance of Brick Lane.

Mind, that I eat any hot or spicy foods at all is progress, given my upbringing.

As I've mentioned before, I have no memories of my mother using spices in her food, aside from Christmas puddings and cakes, and bought hot cross buns at Easter. Spices, it seems, were for religious occasions only.

And as for heat …

I didn't eat anything hot until I was 19 and about to go to polytechnic.

It was early 1982. We lived in Lancaster at the time, and a parishoner of my father's, who’d worked in the theatre and taken me under his wing, took me down to the Royal Exchange Manchester to see Sophocles's Philoctetes, starring Robert Lindsay.

It's worth pointing out at this stage that, when I say he'd "taken me under his wing", it was entirely that. Apparently my mother was convinced otherwise and, years later, my father (who has always loved such opportunities to attempt to play divide and rule) told me that she'd read my diaries to see if there was some sort of affair going on. There are times with my parents when it's difficult to know which of them I most want to smack.

And besides, she must have been the only person around that didn’t realise that Robert was gay.

But anyway. There we were at the Royal Exchange with Robert treating me to a meal before the performance. In a fit of culinary experimentation that I'd never had the chance to exercise previously, I opted for some curry.

I would say that it blew me away. In reality, it just nearly blew my mouth into oblivion.

In retrospect, I have no idea whether it really was hot or not – or whether it was simply a matter of a first encounter with chili was always going to have a massive effect after a lifetime of relatively bland food.

I couldn't eat much of it – but enough to leave me nursing a burnt mouth for days after. And I didn’t touch curry – or any other hot dishes – for years.

Once ensconced in London, I'd eat the occasional korma if out with friends, but it was only in recent years that I dared to start using chilies in my own cooking.

I have also done the thing of toasting the spices myself – but on a midweek evening, it's always going to be paste from a jar. And yes, it's still korma.

Onion softened, then plenty of curry paste. Add chopped butternut squash, parsnip, carrot, a tin of chopped tomatoes and some water, cover and simmer until the vegetables are cooked. Serve with rice.

It's not a 'proper' curry and it's hardly ambitious cooking, but it's hearty and really quite healthy.

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