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

The Guardian - Cook - - The Modern Cook - Anna Jones

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.

Serves 4

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

To serve

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.

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