Feel­ing a lit­tle chilli

Si­mon Hop­kin­son bridges the gap be­tween win­ter stews and spring greens with two sump­tu­ously spicy dishes

Country Life Every Week - - Contents - Si­mon Hop­kin­son

Si­mon Hop­kin­son bridges the gap be­tween win­ter stews and spring greens with two sump­tu­ously spicy dishes

OC­CA­SION­ALLY, Ja­son Lowe, my most ad­mirable snap­per, and I over­look my en­thu­si­asm for the feel of a dish and his Le­ica-like beady eye tells me that all looks just fine through his lens. ‘Oh, Hoppy, that looks won­der­ful,’ he gushes as he en­thu­si­as­ti­cally clicks away— although, these days, it’s more of a quiet splurt of the dig­i­tal cam­era send­ing the im­age to a small lap­top com­puter.

I trust you will rel­ish and en­joy the dishes de­picted here, but would ven­ture now that the back­ground tone is, how shall we say, just a bit too blue. We apol­o­gise un­re­servedly and shall at­tempt a more dec­o­ra­tive con­trast in fu­ture. Mind you, don’t ex­pect slabs of Welsh slate or hexag­o­nal pink plates any­time soon.

Most of­ten, it’s when work­ing ahead of time for a highly illustrated mag­a­zine that oc­ca­sional vis­ual over­sights can oc­cur. Think­ing of early-spring dishes, say, when there may still be snow on the ground, is such a mo­ment— and March, of all the months of the year, has al­ways been the most tax­ing. Win­ter is on the wane, but sprightly spring pro­duce is not yet in ev­i­dence.

It’s too late for a warm­ing braise, but mild enough to al­most think of early Jersey pota­toes (just don’t be taken in by the ones that ac­tu­ally ap­pear in the shops now as they’re likely as not to have been forced in poly­tun­nels).

This dif­fi­cult month will, for me, al­ways be one in which it seems fine to throw cau­tion to the wind by in­ject­ing a lit­tle spice, per­haps even as a splice— for­give me—to the change of sea­son.

Aubergines with gin­ger, spring onion and chilli Serves 4

This favourite recipe is very good spooned over small bowls of steamed jas­mine rice. I al­ways use the ab­sorp­tion method rather than sim­ply boil­ing it in wa­ter: wash the rice well un­til the wa­ter runs clear, cover and sim­mer qui­etly un­til cooked, us­ing 200g of rice to 325ml of wa­ter. Once it’s clear that the rice is cooked, switch off the heat and leave the lid on for a fur­ther 7–10 min­utes, be­fore fluff­ing up with a fork.

Sim­ply re­duce or raise amounts pro rata, to suit serv­ings.

How­ever, I am per­fectly happy to slurp up this de­li­ciously slith­ery—a good dish of cooked aubergines should al­ways be thus—assem­bly just as it is. 250ml mirin (sweet­ened rice wine) 75ml soy sauce (Kikko­man prefer­ably) 1 small knob of fresh gin­ger,

peeled and finely grated 4 spring onions, trimmed and

finely chopped 2 cloves gar­lic, crushed and finely

chopped 1tb­spn sesame oil 2 large, mild red chill­ies, finely

chopped 2 aubergines Peanut oil (or other neu­tral-flavoured oil)

Method

Pour the mirin into a saucepan, bring up to the boil, then sim­mer un­til re­duced to about half its orig­i­nal vol­ume. De­cant into a bowl and stir in the soy sauce, gin­ger, spring onions, gar­lic, sesame oil and chill­ies.

Re­move the stalk from the aubergines, slice them length­ways into quar­ters and then cut across each quar­ter to achieve short lengths.

Heat 2–3 ta­ble­spoons of peanut oil in a large fry­ing pan un­til hot, but not smok­ing, then put in the aubergines and gen­tly fry, turn­ing them over reg­u­larly with a slot­ted spoon un­til the flesh is golden and the skins bur­nished, for 10–25 min­utes. They should be very ten­der, but not col­laps­ing, and you might have to do the fry­ing in batches, to­gether with a lit­tle more oil.

Once done, lift the aubergines out onto crum­pled kitchen pa­per to drain, then tip into a large mix­ing bowl. Spoon the dress­ing over them and, with slow and ten­ta­tive move­ments, turn the aubergines through it. De­cant into a suit­able serv­ing dish and serve warm or at room tem­per­a­ture.

‘Win­ter is on the wane, but sprightly spring pro­duce is not yet in ev­i­dence’

Cau­li­flower-and­tomato curry Serves 4

I am de­lighted to say that my lo­cal su­per­mar­ket here in west Lon­don (Tesco, as it hap­pens) has re­cently made a move to stock the bril­liant Shana brand of parathas in its freezer sec­tion. They are just de­li­cious and are sim­ply cooked, di­rect from frozen, by plac­ing into a mod­er­ately heated, heavy-based fry­ing pan un­til pale golden and nicely puffed on each sur­face; about 5–7 min­utes, reg­u­larly flipped over with a spat­ula.

Once cut into flaky, but­tery quar­ters and used to scoop up this fra­grant curry, it moves me to think that to ‘eat with crusty bread’ has never been so re­dun­dant a sug­fol­low ges­tion. Un­less, per­haps, with a nice slice of chicken-liver pâté.

In­gre­di­ents

1tb­spn cumin seeds 1tb­spn co­rian­der seeds 10 car­damoms Half a ta­ble­spoon fen­nel seeds Half a ta­ble­spoon black mus­tard

seeds 6 cloves 2 star anise 2tb­spn sun­flower oil (or other

neu­tral-flavoured oil) Half a tea­spoon ground turmeric 1tspn sea salt 400ml co­conut milk 2tspn tamarind paste 1 small cau­li­flower, bro­ken into

flo­rets 4 small green chill­ies, halved and

de-seeded 24 cherry toma­toes Sev­eral curry leaves (op­tional) 1–2tspn sugar, de­pend­ing on the

sweet­ness of the toma­toes Sev­eral sprigs of co­rian­der,

roughly chopped

Method

Us­ing a fry­ing pan, lightly toast the first 7 whole spices un­til aro­matic, tak­ing care that they don’t scorch. Heat the oil in a wide and shal­low pot and add the whole spices. Fry for a cou­ple of min­utes over a mod­er­ate heat, then add the turmeric and salt. Pour in the co­conut milk, stir in the tamarind, bring up to a sim­mer and al­low to qui­etly cook for about 15 min­utes.

Now, us­ing a stick blender (or a liq­uidiser), blitz the mix­ture for about 30 sec­onds, just to break up the spices. Re­move from the heat and leave to in­fuse.

Pass this sauce through a fine sieve and re­turn it to the (clean) pot. Tip in the cau­li­flower flo­rets and the green chill­ies, al­low­ing to cook for a few min­utes un­til the cau­li­flower is al­most ten­der, then stir in the toma­toes and curry leaves, if us­ing.

Sim­mer for a few more min­utes, un­til the toma­toes soften, burst and then slightly col­lapse and the sauce fur­ther re­duces—about 10 min­utes in all.

Fi­nally, taste the sauce to see if it needs a touch of sugar or salt, then stir in the chopped co­rian­der leaves and serve forth­with.

Gin­gered up: this ‘de­li­ciously slith­ery’ dish of aubergines can be en­joyed with rice or sim­ply on its own

Spice to see you: warm up your stom­ach and your taste­buds with this flavour­ful and whole­some veg­etable curry

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