There’s something about traveling that makes your own habits, culinary or otherwise, glaringly obvious. It’s only when you’re taken out of your day-to-day routine that odd quirks, individual preferences and (at times) OCD tendencies come to light.
Take my recent trip home, for instance. It was wonderful not to worry about cooking for a spell, to simply relax and enjoy the delicious meals presented by my Mum, aunts, Grandma and various waiters, and not think about the cleanup or health factor (holiday food doesn’t have calories, right?). But food prepared by others, no matter how delicious, is never done exactly the way you’d do it, is it?
So when we got home last week, I began (somewhat grudgingly) to cook my own way again. As I was sprinkling some chili flakes into some-or-other dish with which to soothe and nourish our jet-lagged souls, Andrew came into the kitchen and paused. “Your family doesn’t like spicy foods as much as we do, do they?” he asked.
I stopped in mid-stir, thinking. It’s not as if I grew up eating bland, flavourless food or anything; in fact, both my parents profess to like spicy foods. But Andrew was right: there was a decided lack of spice on this most recent holiday. In fact, the only dish I recall eating that had my preferred level of heat was one that I made myself. (Yes, my mum insisted that I cook a non-traditional Thanksgiving meal for my aunt, uncle and cousins one night: cannelloni, braised cabbage and pumpkin pie.) But if my parents’ version of spicy isn’t exactly the same as mine, it’s probably due to breadth rather than depth. I’m sure they see spice as something limited to certain kinds of foods, while in my opinion, there’s precious little that can’t be made more delicious with a pinch of dried pepper flakes or a sprinkling of chopped fresh chili.
Ironically (after all that), this dish is not actually all that spicy. It is, however, wonderfully fragrant, sweet, and absolutely perfect for this time of year. The recipe, from Nigel Slater’s new book, originally called for pumpkin, which I didn’t have any of at the time. It was tasty with my favourite squash though, so much so that I’m sure I’ll be making it again this way.
The naan is adapted from a Deborah Madison recipe I’ve used for several years, though I opt to grill these rather than bake them, as she suggests. Crispy outside and doughy inside, with a a smear of melted butter and a sprinkle of sea salt, they’re the perfect accompaniment to not just this, but any curry. And they’ll take the edge off anything too-spicy, in case your tastes run opposite to mine ;)
- Squash and Chickpea Curry with Lemongrass and Coriander
- adapted from Nigel Slater’s Tender, Volume I
- serves 4
- 2 Tbs. olive oil (or use a neutral vegetable one if you prefer)
1 large onion, chopped
3 stalks lemongrass, outer leaves removed
3 cloves garlic, peeled and crushed
thumb-sized piece of ginger, peeled
2 tsp ground coriander
1 tsp ground turmeric
4 cardamom pods, crushed
2 hot red chilis, finely chopped (or 1/2 tsp. crushed chili flakes)
1 small butternut squash, peeled, seeded and cut into bite-sized chunks
200g dried chickpeas, soaked overnight and simmered until tender (or use 2 x 400g cans)
1 x 400g can of coconut milk
approx. 1 cup of stock (or water)
1/4 cup chopped fresh coriander
- 1. Heat the oil in a large, heavy-bottomed saucepan over medium-low heat. When the oil is hot, add the onions and cook until soft and translucent.
2. Meanwhile, make a rough paste of the garlic, lemongrass and ginger, either using a food processor or a mortar and pestle. Add this to the onions, along with the coriander, turmeric, cardamom and chili. Stir well and continue to cook over a low heat (you may need to add some water to keep the mixture from sticking).
3. Add the squash and chickpeas, and pour in the coconut milk. Add just enough stock or water to almost cover the squash (about 1 cup), then partially cover the pan and simmer until the squash is tender to your liking. This should take 20-25 minutes; if you feel there is too much liquid, remove the lid toward the end of the cooking time and allow some of the moisture to evaporate.
4. Remove curry from the heat and stir in the chopped coriander. Serve with naan (recipe below) and a dollop of Greek yogurt.
- adapted from Deborah Madison’s Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone
- makes 4 small naans
- 1 tsp. instant yeast
1/3 cup plain yogurt (I use Greek-style)
2 Tbs. butter
3/4 tsp. sea salt
1/2 cup hot water
1 1/2 cups plain flour (I sometimes use 1 cup plain and 1/2 cup whole wheat)
1 tsp. butter (for the tops, optional)
sea salt (for sprinkling, optional)
- 1. Put the yeast, yogurt, butter and salt together in a medium bowl. Pour over the hot water and whisk until the butter has melted and everything is mixed together.
2. Gradually add in the flour, stirring with a wooden spoon or a dough whisk. Turn out onto a lightly floured surface and knead for 3-4 minutes, until smooth. The dough should be soft but not too sticky; you may need to add a bit more flour. Place the dough in an oiled bowl, cover and let rise for 1 hour.
3. Preheat the grill/broiler. Divide the dough into 4 pieces and pull, stretch or roll each one into a flat, oblong shape. Arrange the naans on a nonstick baking sheet and place under the grill until the tops begin to brown, about 4 minutes. Flip and cook the other sides until they brown, too.
4. If you like, brush 1/4 tsp. of butter on the top of each naan as soon as they are removed from the oven. Sprinkle over some sea salt (I also like chopped fresh coriander on these) and serve with any type of curry.