When David had his 60th birthday tea, as he was leaving the lovely Sandip pressed a plastic box into my hands and said something like “you will be exhausted tonight, have this box of ……..” but I didnt catch the word. However he was right. We were exhausted, and when I opened the box about 8pm that evening a heavenly waft of fresh and deep curry paste rose to greet me. This is what we are having tonight and having checked with Sam earlier, the word is ‘tadhka’ which means something like curry-paste-base-for-any-meat-or-vegetable-curry.
Today me and my man had a lovely relaxed mooch around Norwich, wandering up Magdalen Street, visiting Three Magdalen Street and its fab modernist original pieces of furniture; Loose’s where I was tempted by two Swedish school lockers and some little Swedish saucepans; then up to revisit the Little Shop of Vegans where my original impression was confirmed. Catering to a particular market, it is a great ambassador for the vegan diet and is heavy on T shirts and soaps, has two fridges with many products mimicking meat but sadly no fresh soya milk or soya products. Hey ho. Then we went to Desh – the wonderful Halal supermarket. Bought Doodhi (bottle gourd) and little aubergines, some fresh dill and coriander. Then into the centre of town and back to Tofurei which was a little more lively than when I was there earlier in the week but which -perversely for the first soya based dairy in Norwich – sells lovely chocolate, strawberry or vanilla (sweetened) soya milk but no plain unsweetened soya milk. However the soft fresh tofu looked divine and the tasty morsels of herbed tofu sausages and burgers were really lovely, as was the the truly scrumptious Tyne Chease boxes – we bought the smoked chease – and the cakes were mouthwatering. I am going to make some pasta with the tofu tomorrow (tofu instead of egg). Yes, I know. Wierd. But I am told you cannot tell the difference….. watch this space.
Then, because it cannot be ignored, and to enter its portals is to guarantee purchasing at least one book, to The Book Hive where I spent my Christmas money. For once I bought only two We had lunch and mint tea in Moorish, the Felafel bar in Lower Gate Lane and we confirmed that the Norwich Lanes, with their independent shops and eateries, knock The Malls in Norwich into cocked hats.
We staggered home, and himself immediately disappeared into the workshop for four hours whilst I pottered about in the kitchen. And so to dinner. I made some dough for flatbread which is currently proving in the best spot in the house. On the floor. In the bathroom. By the oil filled radiator.
Then I set to and made the Tadkha. These are the things you need to prepare. First, chop 3 onions in the food processor until nearly a paste and dry them in a non stick wok on a high heat for about 15 minutes. Keep checking that they are not sticking. Then mince 3 cloves of garlic and 6 green chillis into it (easier to do this with a pestle and mortar). Add to the onions then add about 25ml olive oil.
Dry roast the following: a dessert spoon full of cumin seed, half a dessert spoon of coriander seek, a small stick of cinnamon, 2 black cardamom pods, remove from the heat when they are popping and allow to cool a little. Then grind in either a pestle and mortar, or I use a coffee grinder specifically kept for spices. Add to the onion mixture, turn down the heat and cook gently with the lid on for about an hour. Yes, an hour.
Then add a tablespoon of tomato purée and cook for about 5 minutes until the oil separates. Add half a tin of chopped tomatoes. Add two inches of grated fresh ginger (keep some in your freezer and grate from frozen) and a small bunch of fenugreek leaves (I substitute with fresh dill). Add a little salt, a dessert spoon of garam masala and turmeric powder, stir and cook for a few more minutes. Then its done. It should look deeply red and be a thick paste.
This may appear to you to be fiddly and time-consuming but it isn’t once you get into the swing of it. Just turn on 6Music and relax. My kitchen cupboard is stocked up with fresh spices and you might want to start your collection too. But don’t let them get stale. They don’t keep forever and the beauty of Tadkha is that it is fresh, deep and vibrant all at the same time, because the flavours develop in the pan and the ingredients are freshly ground. So dont be tempted to use ground spices (with the exception of turmeric in this instance). I keep every day use spices in my masala dabba and the rest of the stock in sealed bags in a basket where they wont get too hot or damp.
So what have I made for tonight? I chopped the lovely little aubergine and bottle gourd purchased in Desh and fried off in a pan with a little onion. When soft I added about four hefty tablespoons of the Tadkha and loosened it slightly with just a little water. You could also use yogurt. Then I cooked the vegetables in the sauce for about 5 minutes, and added a handful of spinach leaves. Then I turned off the heat and kept the lid on.
I also cooked the eternal standby in our house. Chick peas with chilli, cinnamon, coconut and fresh coriander and it couldnt be simpler. Fry two large chopped onions with some chilli flakes and an inch of chopped fresh ginger in very little oil. When the onion looks like its going to stick, add the water from a tin of chick peas and cook for a further five minutes. Then add two tins of chopped tomatoes, two tins of chickpeas (you will have used the water from one, but drain the other) and a tin of coconut milk, a flat dessert spoon of ground cinnamon, a flat dessert spoon of brown sugar and a grind of black pepper. Let it cook for about an hour then add just a little salt to taste. Before you serve, stir in some chopped fresh coriander leaf.
So cooking today took a little while, because I had to make the Tadkha. But I only used about a third of it so now there is some sitting in a jar in the fridge. Its a good standby , and in a similar vein as having Thai green curry paste to hand, it means you can produce a quick curry by adding it to chopped chicken or lamb and adding a little more water or some yogurt.
So now, I am going to roll out the flatbreads and freeze what we dont eat. And make a simple raita with grated cucumber (centres removed), salted then mixed with yogurt and fresh coriander. Except I wont eat that bit because its Veganuary!!
By the way. If you are in Marylebone, make sure you visit Sam’s sister Ravinder’s restaurant Jikoni, which opened to four star reviews last year.