Fifty years ago I was at catering college (a career I never pursued) and there is one particular memory of my student days that’s stayed with me. One afternoon Mr Green, our lecturer, demonstrated the methodology for making meat stew and afterwards we students, who had all been given identical ingredients to work with, were told to recreate the dish from scratch.
Given the constraints of a predetermined set of ingredients, it was truly bizarre to experience how differently our individual interpretations of a simple recipe for beef stew turned out, which varied between downright inedible to very tasty indeed. It was then I realised that cooking isn’t just about acquiring skills - it’s an instinct.
From a food blogger’s perspective this has taught me that I need to create and test recipes very precisely to ensure there’s virtually no room for error in their translation. Not an easy task when ‘season to taste’ is purely subjective and people don’t know what’s wrong or missing from a recipe unless, like me, they instinctively do. You’d be surprised at how many times I read a recipe and ‘know’ it’s not going to work before I’ve even cooked it.
I have five golden rules for success:
- Read every recipe through at least twice before you start to cook it.
- Prepare everything in advance e.g. assembling ingredients, chopping vegetables, lining tins etc.
- Taste your dish each step of the way - add extra seasoning etc. cautiously.
- Consider the overall balance of the meal - colours, taste, texture, ratio of protein to carbs etc.
- Delegate - there is nothing more bonding than cooking a meal with people you love, then sitting down together to eat it.
Sadly, none of this is an issue for people who’ve already been persuaded by the food industry that it’s better to stay out of the kitchen and let someone else (in a factory) do their cooking for them. In my view, this is precisely why factory-farming and other ecologically unsound food production methods have flourished. The demands of big business supplying ready-meals and cheap convenience food has consistently applied pressure on farmers to keep driving food production costs down. Economies of scale now forces millions of factory farmed animals to live and die in abject misery and to be treated with less respect than a fruit farmer must give to a crate of apples to prevent them from being bruised - all in the name of profit.
Feeling energetically connected to the food you eat goes with the territory for the instinctive cook, so in the face of gross acts of cruelty to these sentient beings, I feel compelled to create vegetarian meals that taste as good, if not better, than meat-based ones. Morally, veganism would be better, but since both grains and legumes are off limits for a Primally inspired lifestyle, it is an impossible decision to make if I want to continue living healthily. My best hope is to encourage readers to roll up their sleeves and acquaint themselves with the sheer pleasure and satisfaction of cooking real, nutrient dense foods that don’t exploit animals and aren’t at odds with nature.
I created this weeks’ recipe for the Best Ever Vegetable Curry (indeed the best-of-any-type of curry I’ve ever tasted), for that reason. John, Sarah and I needed something to eat at my son-in-laws recent 40th birthday party, because although his favourite curry house delivered enough food for 50 guests, none of it was compatible with our self-imposed no meat, no legumes, no grains diet.
I’ve called this fresh-tasting, fresh-looking, aromatic vegetable curry ‘Best Ever’ because Sarah and I only had to take one mouthful before we both excitedly announced “This is the best tasting curry I’ve eaten…ever!” Perfectly balanced - not too hot, not too spicy, not too creamy - I spent most of the evening congratulating myself!
Craving curry? This one ticks all the boxes. It’s delicious, it’s inexpensive, it’s vegetarian (I like that many Indians are strict vegetarians), it’s a complete meal in a bowl and, because it’s one of those dishes that tastes even better the next day when the flavours have been allowed to fully develop, it’s the perfect make-ahead meal for family and friends. Served with Coriander & Mint Chutney, it’s in a flavour-packed league of its own that could convert even the most dedicated meat eater.
For those of you that already follow the Primal eating plan and think that curry nirvana can’t exist without naan bread, I agree! There is no better way to get curry into your mouth! Which means that a Primal Plate recipe for grain-free naan bread is already in development and (fingers crossed) will be posted soon. Watch this space!
Best Ever Vegetable Curry (Serves 4)
2 tbsp olive oil
2 medium onions, finely diced
walnut-sized piece fresh ginger, peeled and finely grated (about 1 tbsp when grated)
2 tsp ground coriander
2 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp ground turmeric
1 green chilli
1 dsp organic tomato paste
350g organic sweet potatoes
250g organic carrots
1 small celeriac (about 500g unpeeled weight)
1 x 400g tin organic plum tomatoes
160ml organic coconut cream
3-inch piece cinnamon stick
Sea salt (about 1½ tsp) and freshly ground black pepper (about ¼ tsp)
1 small head of cauliflower, cut into small bite-sized florets
120g baby spinach, washed and dried
Coriander and Mint Chutney - to serve
Heat the oil over medium-high heat in a large deep sauté / frying pan. Add the onion, cover and cook, stirring occasionally, for 4 minutes or until beginning to brown. Reduce the heat to medium and continue to cook with the pan lid on for another 8 to10 minutes, stirring from time to time, until the onion is deep golden brown.
Peel and chop all the root vegetables (carrot, sweet potato, celeriac) into even-sized dice (about 15mm / ¾ inch) - you should have about 950g prepared vegetables in total.
Halve, deseed and finely chop the chilli. Peel and grate the ginger.
Add the chilli and ginger to the onions; cook, stirring, for 1 minute to combine the flavours.
Add the coriander, cumin, turmeric; stir for another minute to toast the spices. Add the bouillon powder and tomato paste and stir for another minute until well blended into the spice mix.
Add the diced vegetables, stir to evenly coat them in the aromatics, then cover the pan and continue to cook over a medium/low heat whilst you open the tomatoes and drain the juice into a measuring jug.
Remove any daggy stalk ends, bits of skin etc. from the tomatoes, then chop them and add to the pan. Make the drained tomato juice up to 300ml with filtered water and add that too.
Add the coconut cream, cinnamon stick, salt, and freshly ground pepper and bring to the boil. Reduce the heat to medium/ low and simmer for 15 minutes, or until the root vegetables are almost tender.
Add the cauliflower florets, stir well, cover and cook for a further 10 minutes until the cauliflower is tender. Remove the cinnamon stick.
Stir in spinach and cook until the spinach has wilted, about 2 minutes more. Check the seasoning, adding more salt if necessary.
Serve in warmed bowls topped with a generous spoonful of Coriander and Mint Chutney.