The DIY curry

00:01, May 16 2012

To cook things that are especially delicious, especially vegetarian things, for some reason, I reckon you need a bit of time. It is easy enough to sling a steak in a pan, or even to roast a chicken, but if you're going to try to do something impressive with non-meat ingredients - even, God forbid, vegan ingredients - I reckon you need more time.

Time to roast veges, time to soak and cook chickpeas or lentils. And time to put it all together. On Monday, I had the day off, and, given that I have been recovering from a niggly coldy-fluey-type thing, thought I would devote a rainy day to putting away my many shoes, watching a documentary about drug-related crime in Colombia, and listening to pretentious, obscure German 70s rock music. Oh, and making a (hold your breath) vegan curry. Strangely, I have realised I am not overly keen on meat-based Indian curries, and that vegetarian curries are both simple to make and delicious.

After years of being unimpressed by curry pastes from a jar (too sweet, too cloying, not "fresh" tasting enough, not enough heat), I had a bit of an epiphany when the not-at-all unlovely Nigella Lawson made a slap-up-from-scratch curry in one of her lascivious TV shows. She is, by her own admission, an inspirationally sloppy and lazy cook. Also, it seemed far from the sort of exacting, scientific recipe that I appear resolutely unable to follow...

So, with apologies to people who know how to make proper curries, I thought I would share my non-recipe with you.

For the curry paste, you might like to use:

- A peeled, chopped finger of turmeric (or dried powdered stuff if you prefer)

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- A decent-sized chunk of peeled, chopped ginger

- 3 or 4 garlic cloves

- a tablespoon or so of black cumin seeds (or powdered cumin. I love cumin, and I reckon it is the key to that curry flavour)

- stalks and cleaned roots from a bunch of fresh coriander

- ground black pepper

- salt (just use plain iodised salt - it's not worth wasting fancy sea salt in the paste - anyone who thinks they will be able to tell the difference is full of it)

- a couple of fresh chilis, or a heaped teaspoon of dried chili. Use a bit more than you think - go on - it's good for circulation and digestion

- vegetable oil - a decent glug of it

- the zest of a lemon (for freshness)

Throw all this stuff into a blender and blitz it until it is the texture of loose peanut butter - seriously. It's that easy. I realise that traditionally it would be made with a mortar and pestle, but I am much too lazy for that. I usually find it makes enough paste for two meals, so halve it and freeze the other lot for later - and despite what I said earlier, it is also good with chicken or fish.

For the curry, you will want to have soaked and boiled in water (or, better still, vege stock) 2 cups of dried chickpeas (until they are cooked, but still with a little bite to them - you're going to cook them more in the curry); and pre-roasted (with vegetable oil and salt and pepper to taste) half a pumpkin, chopped to bite-sized pieces

Slice and fry off in oil two whole onions. Get them nice and brown, then set aside on paper towels to soak up the excess oil. Brown a handful of cashew nuts as well, and put these on paper towels too.

Now, fry your curry paste on a medium heat in a tablespoon or so of oil for a couple of minutes until it just browns a little - it will smell really good and fresh. Add the cooked chickpeas and cook through for a couple of minutes. Add a can of coconut milk (I use the Ceres brand organic stuff - the light variety - it's good, and not that expensive), let it get up to temperature and reduce a little. Add the roasted pumpkin - don't worry if it breaks down a little, it will make your vegan curry more creamy. Cook it till it all comes together - maybe 10-15 minutes?

Finish the curry with the juice of half the lemon you zested earlier (and then turn the heat off - I reckon lemon juice tastes best when it hasn't been "cooked") - it helps to brighten and freshen the flavours.

Serve a generous helping atop basmati rice, and finish with the fried onions, cashew nuts and a handful of chopped coriander leaves.  The roasted pumpkin makes it sweet and rich.

Delicious, and simple - but a little time consuming - save it for a day off...

Do you make your own curry paste? How does your method differ from mine? Will you give mine a go? And please - what steps have I glossed over that need more adequate explanation?!

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