I bought a bird feeder from the hardware superstore the other day. Along with a new huge barbecue and quite a few other things you're allowed when you graduate from Dad school.Except it seems to be badly calibrated. In this part of South east London it seems the only birds it attracts are squirrels. And three very shifty looking pigeons. And while I may proudly wear a 'For the many' lapel badge on my jacket, in this situation I am taking a hardline stance on scroungers and layabout animals wanting something for nothing. I threw a tennis ball in their general direction earlier and they retreated to a safe distance, eyeing me with beady contempt.But while the level of seeds and nuts dimishes quicker than my enthusiasm for the new season's hot weather after two days of sneezing my face off, my excitement at the garden grows daily as new things pop out here and there, seemingly overnight. Violets and forget-me-nots appeared from the garden's edge like a very slow jack-in-the-box and the tulips opened wider than I thought possible to soak up the strong, bright sunlight shining constantly on the borders.We cooked outside for the first time this year. In April. Which surely is unheard of. I over-catered in my excitement. Chicken, slender sausages, langoustines with garlic butter, burgers, lamb chops marinated in harissa, za'atar, cumin and rosemary, flatbreads, charring in parts until the edges shatter when you tap them. I roasted aubergines on the coals until soft and blackened then mashed them with olive oil, plenty of garlic and some more cumin and we sat outside stuffing our faces in the late afternoon warmth.After a weekend of overeating and behaving as if we were battery chickens busted out into the freedom of the garden, Monday night called for a calmer supper.I made this tom kha, trying to recreate the one from our local Thai restaurant. And while not quite the same as theirs -- I have a feeling they may lace it with sugar -- it was fresh tasting, spicy (but with a nice heat that sort of punched you in the face then left you alone, rather than one that slowly builds like a kind of gaslighting) and ready in about 20 minutes. Halve the amount of chillies if you like, but I do rather enjoy the rush you get from something that is almost too much.I put prawns in this one, but chicken is equally delicious. As is pigeon or squirrel. Possibly.IngredientsA thumb sized piece of galangal, finely sliced3-4 red chillies (birdseye or finger)2 sticks of lemongrass, bruised and sliced into 3cm pieces1 tin of coconut milk (400ml)6 or so kaffir lime leaves1 shallot, finely sliced2 medium-small tomatoes, choppedAbout six meaty mushrooms (I used chestnut, but would have preferred oyster)300g raw tiger prawnsJuice and zest of a limeA dash of fish sauce and a little pinch of salt to tasteA bunch of coriander, choppedMethodThrow the galangal, lemongrass, kaffir lime leaves, shallot and chillies into a saucepan with the coconut milk and slowly heat, stirring gently and occasionally.Cook for about five minutes then add the mushrooms and prawns and bring to just below the boil. Cook for another 5-10 minutes, until the prawns are cooked through then season with the lime juice and fish sauce to taste. Try to get the balance between salty, sour, sweet and sharp.Add the chopped coriander and lime zest and serve straight away with more lime wedges and chilli slices on the side.This weekWatched: Swan Lake ballet for children at the theatre. About my level really. I still found the whole thing preposterous though. I mean really...Read: The Leopard, by Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa. Sicily, a prince in the 1860s. I mean, it's perfectly readable, but I had no great desire to rush home and pick it up.Eat: Neil from Eugene cooked us great steaks the other night, before he and Linda returned home. Delicious food and great company.Listened: Some new English jazz, would you believe. Ivo Neame featuring Shabaka Hutchings. Good stuff, interesting, and wide-ranging.
First of all, if you don't like beetroot, please leave the room becausea: I don't trust youb: you won't like this curry. It tastes of beetroot.For those of you still here, this is a rather special curry. One of those where the taste lingers long after in the mind. In fact, I was dreaming of this dish the day after I made it, keen to cook it again at the soonest opportunity. It's rich, soothing, earthy, firey (and possibly windy), and the dense texture of the beetroot is quite unusual in that the in the curries I usually have, the main ingredient is soft, tender long cooked meat that falls apart, delicate prawns, or meaty fish. This has bite. And the sauce... dredging the chapatis through the deep burgundy velvet is an indecent event.I'd stress the importance of fresh curry leaves. Don't bother with dried ones really. At the very least, use fresh curry leaves you have frozen (which they are very good for). I normally buy quite a few bags and keep them in the freezer just in case. They are so distinct and have such a recognisable aroma when they hit the hot coconut oil in the pan that they immediately hit my memory button of being in Sri Lanka.You can use the base of this curry with prawns if you like and it will be delicious. But please, try this one. You can have a prawn curry any boring old time.Ingredients2tbsp coconut oil4 large beetroot1tsp mustard seeds. I used yellow, but you can useblack1 small cinnamon stick1tbsp ground coriander4 green chillies, sliced (I'd go up to six)1 garlic clove, crushed1 onion, finely slicedA handful of fresh curry leaves1tsp grated fresh turmeric root1/2tsp grated ginger1 tin of coconut milk2tbsp pistachios, chopped2tbsp dessicated coconutSome coriander leavesFor the chapatis:300g wholewheat flour170ml warm waterA good pinch of salt1tsp garam masalaMethodHeat the coconut oil in a large wide pan and add the mustard seeds. When they start to pop add the cinnamon stick and onion. Stir well, season a little and cook gently until the onions start to soften and turn golden. Add the turmeric, coriander, garlic and ginger then stir in the curry leaves.Add the chillies and beetroot, stir well and cook for a few minutes. Pour in the coconut milk and mix well.Bring to the boil then turn to a low simmer and cook for about 45 minutes, turning the beetroot occasionally so they cook evenly and the sauce reduces and thickens.If the sauce gets too thick, add a splash of hot water and stir well. Taste, adjust the seasoning and leave to rest while you make the chapatis.Mix the flour, salt, garam masala and water together in a bowl until it forms a dough. Knead for a few minutes then divide into eight balls. Heat a cast iron skillet until red hot and thinly roll out a dough ball into a circle. Cook it in the dry pan until it starts to bubble up. Flip it over and cook until the other side bubbles. If you have a gas hob, finish each bread directly on the flame for about 20 seconds, they puff up really well and char a little.Repeat until you have used all the dough.Heat the curry through, sprinkle over the pistachios, coconut and coriander and serve with the chapatis and some basmati rice if you like.
I suffer from low curry levels if I go more than four days without one. This clearly quite serious situation can result in either a delivery, a trip to Ganapati in Peckham or a whole, and very enjoyable afternoon crafting a feast of Moghul wedding proportions.Saturday night, however, and I was like the walking dead with tiredness and while we fancied an 'Indian', we weren't really hungry enough for any of the above. This is where my ten minute curry comes in. Freezer and storecupboard combining in perfect symmetry. I even surprised myself with how quick this was. The rice took the longest to cook here, so it's quicker than a delivery too. And you're not left with that slightly dirty feeling afterwards...The fresh turmeric here gives an amazingly vivid flavour. Mush better than dried. And it's so good for you, apparently. This curry is slightly sweet with a nice chilli kick and plenty of spices. Feel free to adjust he chilli as you need. You'll be able to make this quicker than the time it takes to phone your order through.So with normal levels restored we could face the crowds and mud at Glastonbury from the comfort of the sofa. Perfect.Ingredients:Coconut oil1 onion, sliced1bsp ginger puree1tbsp garlic puree3 small green chillies (or fewer)250g shelled tiger prawns1tbsp ground cumin1/2tbsp ground coriander3cm grated fresh turmeric (or 1tbsp dried)1tbsp ground fenugreek1tsp poppy seeds1tsp yellow mustard seeds (I was just throwing things from the spice boxes in by this point, so feel free to stop if you like)1/4 tin of coconut milkSalt and pepper to seasonA squeeze of lemon juiceChopped coriander to serveMethod:Heat a frying pan and soften the onions in some coconut oil then add the purees, chilli and spices. Cook for a few minutes.Grate in the turmeric and add the prawns. Turn the heat up and cook the prawns for a minute until they start to turn pink. Add the coconut milk, season and stir well. Bring the sauce to the boil and reduce the heat to a simmer for about four minutes.Serve with a squeeze of lemon juice and some fresh coriander leaves and a big portion of fluffy basmati rice.