Taste explosions in little packages
Learning how to pack aromatics and spices into a pungent paste for freezing is a perfect way of adding an instant hit of peppery heat and punchy flavour to your winter curries
There is something intimate about fridges and freezers. Bear with me here, but peering into someone else’s is a window into their life or lives, and the first thing I want to know about when I walk into their home. A quick look will tell you a bit about who sits around the table, the places and things they might love.
This week, however, I turned my attention to my own freezer for a winter stocktake, which revealed a fair bit about my family. I found: half of the double batch of cider and roast vegetable gravy I made on Christmas day, small bags of cooked butterbeans ready for stews and soups, a couple of rounds of pastry, a packet of filo sheets, frozen blackberries, raspberries and strawberries, bananas chopped into bits for smoothies, an array of homemade baby food (with varying approval rates with my son), an experimental bottle of bergamot vodka, half a bag of frozen peas, a punnet of cranberries, two tubs of ice-cream, a party pack of ice, a bag of sweetcorn and some frozen spinach.
The bottom drawer is another world entirely. It’s packed with aromatics, chillies of all colours and sizes (which are brilliant grated straight from frozen), curry and lime leaves, lemongrass, and grated turmeric and ginger destined for mugs of tea (the frozen stuff doesn’t work so well in cooking). I reach into this drawer for flavours that transport me to places where the air is warmer. It’s also where I stash away a few flavour-packed preparations too.
Little packages of paste make a quick and easy flavour base for soups, stews and curries. Making them has become a huge part of how I cook in winter, turning out double batches, then freezing one so that I am only moments away from something really tasty when I want it. If that sounds a bit too Martha Stewart for your liking, don’t worry: all these paste recipes can be used right away too.
I learned the discipline of making pastes this way from the mother of a friend, a brilliant Indian home cook who has a frozen curry paste or chutney ready for any occasion. Her freezer tells a very different story from mine, with an army of neatly labelled Tupperware containers in every shade from emerald to rust, curries in all iterations and stages of readiness, for family dinners and society parties alike.
I have adapted four of my favourite curries and one tagine to make them work as pastes that can be frozen. Some – those that aren’t traditionally made using a paste – do deviate from the classic versions of these recipes, but I can forgive myself that for the ease and smiles they bring.
Follow the basic method below for each of the pastes
1 Put the aromatics and chillies into a blender and pulse until you have a fine paste, add the spices and pulse again. Finally add the oil and the top note and blitz to an even, finely textured paste. The paste can be frozen for later use.
2 Heat a large pan on a medium heat and add the paste (defrosted if necessary). Fry for 3-5 minutes until the paste has lost its rawness and smells amazing.
3 Add the specified liquid along with 400ml of stock and bring to the boil. If you would like more of a soupy consistency, add a little more stock.
4 Add whatever vegetables, tofu, potatoes etc you like and simmer until cooked, making sure you put in the root vegetables first (as they
take longer), followed by the quickercooking vegetables towards the end. Chopping everything to a similar size will help it to cook evenly.
5 Top up with a little extra hot stock if it looks too thick.
6 If you like, add more freshly chopped herbs and some crunch. Peanuts, crispy shallots or cashew nuts will add extra texture.
7 Serve with rice, noodles or chapatis, as appropriate.
Ezekiel’s massaman curry
This is a recipe my kitchen has inherited from one of my favourite ever cooks, Emily Ezekiel, a dear friend with whom I’ve been lucky to work for a long time, on lots of projects – one of them being the photos for this column. This curry would be a frontrunner for my favourite of all time: it’s so deeply layered with flavour and interest.
1 portion massaman curry paste (see below) 500g new potatoes 300g green beans 2 x 400ml tins of coconut milk 300g purple sprouting broccoli 100g unsalted peanuts 200g firm tofu
Cooked brown rice
1 First make your curry paste – again, see the flavour formula below. If it’s frozen, allow it to defrost a little.
2 Preheat the oven to 200C/400F/gas mark 6. Get a large roasting tray and add the potatoes along with about 2 tbsp massaman paste, toss well and roast in the hot oven for 40 minutes until almost cooked.
3 After 40 minutes, throw in the green beans, toss well and put the tray back into the oven for a further 15 minutes.
4 Put a large pan on to a medium heat. Add the remaining massaman paste to the pan and cook for about 10 minutes until the paste has turned dark and smells a little smoky. Add the coconut milk and then fill one emptied can with boiling water from the kettle; add this and bring to the boil.
5 Add the roasted potatoes, the beans and the purple sprouting broccoli and cook for 10 minutes to bring everything together. Put a griddle pan on to a high heat and leave to warm up.
6 Put the peanuts on to a baking tray and toast in the oven for about 5 minutes until golden. Slice the tofu into 1cm slices and griddle on both sides until charred and warmed through, then add to the large pan.
7 Serve the curry on top of warm brown rice and finish with a sprinkling of the peanuts.