Sweet potato & pumpkin curry

In the two-and-a-bit months since the baby was born, the allotment has gone from high summer productivity to sodden and vaguely overgrown. The so-called compost bin is overflowing with the debris of the season, sunflower stalks, hop vines and mouldy chard. The veg patches are green with weeds and the fruit bushes are bare saved for the buds of new life, already visible on the branches. I pop down when I can for a spot of tidying – the success of this depends entirely on what mood Harry is in, and how much sleep I’ve had (or not had) the night before.

Photo 22-11-2017, 12 49 42

Harry is not much help when it comes to allotmenting

I’ve covered both of the main beds with black plastic, partly to keep the weeds down over winter but also because I don’t know how much I’ll get around to cultivating next year. Left uncovered this soil becomes a carpet of weeds in a blink of an eye; this is a case of an hour’s work now saving me serious amounts of graft come spring.

Photo 22-11-2017, 12 49 18

If left to its own devices, the allotment would be this overgrown all over

Photo 22-11-2017, 12 49 25

I’ve put black plastic over the beds to keep the weeds down

There’s not much to pick now but the cavolo nero is still going strong, as is the kale and chard. What I do have though is a serious pile of pumpkins; having served their time as Halloween decorations, it’s time to transfer them to the pot.

Photo 22-11-2017, 12 49 00

Cavolo nero still going strong, as is the kale and chard

Photo 18-10-2017, 15 50 44

Pumpkins form the basis of this easy curry

This is an easy curry that I have shamelessly pinched from Nigella Lawson, though in truth it’s more the kind of dish I’d expect to find on a yoga retreat than from a ‘sleb chef. It’s vegan (shock!) and cheap (horror!), and more to the point I am able to cook up a massive vat of it in the few minutes that the baby is asleep in the afternoon. If you’re not lucky enough to have a pumpkin pile at home, use butternut squash instead.

Sweet potato and pumpkin curry
Recipe adapted from Nigella Lawson. Makes loads, about 8 portions.

1 red onion, cut into chunks
1 red chilli, stalk removed
Thumb of fresh ginger, peeled
3 fat cloves of garlic, peeled
1 tsp turmeric
2 heaped tsp whole coriander seeds, bashed in a pestle and mortar (or 1 tsp ground coriander)
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1 vegetable stock cube (I use low salt)
Salt
Sunflower oil
1 x 400ml tin coconut milk
1 x 400g tin tomatoes
Water
1 large sweet potato, trimmed and cut into large chunks
1/2 pumpkin or winter squash, peeled and cut into large chunks
Juice of 1 lime

First, make the curry paste. In the food processor, whizz together the onion, chilli, ginger, garlic, turmeric, coriander, cinnamon  and stock cube, adding a splash of water to help it combine if needed.

In a large casserole or stock pot, warm the oil over a medium heat and add the curry paste with a pinch of salt. Fry for a few minutes until the oil begins to separate from the paste. Add the solid coconut cream from the top of the tin of coconut milk, fry for a few minutes more, the add the rest of the coconut milk and tomatoes. Swill both tins out with water and add to the pan.

Finally slide in the sweet potato and squash, bring to a gentle simmer, and cook until the veggies are soft – about half an hour. Some of the squash will disintegrate into the curry, which helps it to thicken. Season with more salt and lime juice to taste, then serve with brown rice and a dollop of yoghurt.

Bengali egg curry

Finally, our dahlias have come into their own. Labyrinth is particularly showy, with massive dinner-plate sized heads in sunset pink shades. Picked with the hot pink zinnia, they give a late summer holiday vibe to the vase.

2016-09-04 11.10.06

Dahlia and zinnia in sunset shades

Meanwhile the aubergines are ripe for picking, their glossy black skins looking beautiful against the red and yellow bowl of tomatoes.

2016-09-07 11.45.49

Greenhouse tomatoes and aubergines, looking gorgeous

It’s not just me who is harvesting: Matt carried out a late-night mission to remove the hopolisk, catching the hop corns at their perfect ripeness. He now has several trays of papery hops drying in his workshop and the pungent “aroma” is filling the room. (For the uninitiated, hops and cannabis are part of the same family. They both stink.) You actually need a bare handful of hops to make a good quantity of beer, so the fate of all these beauties remains unknown.

2016-09-14 10.42.19

Matt’s hops are now drying in the workshop

But enough of all the growing; let’s do some eating. Last weekend our friend Tune came round to cook up an Indian feast; Tune’s from Calcutta and is the most reliable source of proper Bengali home-cooking.

2016-09-11 13.34.23

Tune, our star guest chef!

Star of our Sunday vegetarian menu was this egg curry. EGG CURRY? Yes I know that sounds weird, but it’s dead good. Apparently back home in Calcutta egg curry is a regular ‘kiddie tea’, in the way that we might get beans on toast, and this makes sense: it’s inexpensive, full of protein and fibre, not too spicy and very straightforward. It does take a bit of time to make, of course, but none of the stages are too strenuous. Most importantly, it tastes great. Why can’t we get food like this in the local ‘Indian’ restaurants?

First, toss a few hard boiled eggs and diced potato in salt and turmeric.

2016-09-11 12.51.06

Toss hardboiled eggs and diced potatoes in salt and turmeric

The eggs are fryed in a splash of vegetable oil, in a wok or karahi. They will go vaguely crispy on the outside, which gives a nice texture to the finished dish and also helps to firm them up a little. Once the eggs are browned, the potatoes are treated the same way and cooked until half-done, then set both to one side whilst we make the sauce.

2016-09-11 12.57.52

Fry the eggs in a little vegetable oil

2016-09-11 13.02.24

Do the same with the spuds until they are half cooked

Next we need to get a couple of onions and whizz them up in the food processor to a proper puree. Sizzle some ground cumin, coriander and chilli powder in the pan, then dump in the onion mix along with garlic, ginger and bay leaves. Next is the important bit: it needs cooking down down down and can’t be rushed – it needs at least 15 minutes before we get to the next stage. Keep the heat low and give it a stir every now and then.

2016-09-11 13.12.01

Fry onion puree with garlic, ginger, bay and spices

2016-09-11 13.23.44

It needs to be REALLY cooked down, so don’t rush it. 15 minutes later, it looks like this.

Once the onions are heavily reduced, add a few chopped tomatoes (tinned is fine) and once again we have to reduce and cook it down. This lengthy pre-cooking stage helps turn the curry from a raw, runny, watery mess to a deeply flavoured, rich delight. Cook the mixture down until the oil begins to separate from the puree – it may take another 10 minutes or more.

2016-09-11 13.24.37

Add a few tomatoes and cook down even further, until the oil separates

Once the base sauce is ready, return the eggs and potatoes to the pan along with a splash of water, gently stir to combine, then cook through until the potatoes are soft.

2016-09-11 13.36.26

Put the eggs and potatoes back, along with a splash of water

And that is it! Simply finished with a sprinkle of coriander, then serve with rice or roti and a side vegetable or two.

2016-09-11 15.02.27

Cook the potatoes through and add chopped coriander to finish

Egg curry is one of the best vegetarian dishes you’ll find. The eggs have a firm yet creamy texture, the potatoes give substance and the onion-tomato sauce manages to be light, rich and comforting all at the same time. We enjoyed ours along with sag paneer (with home-grown spinach), rice, roti and an awesome salad made from sprouted mong beans – but that’s a recipe for another day.

2016-09-11 15.03.49

Egg curry, served with steamed rice and sag paneer

Bengali egg curry

Serves 4. Recipe courtesy Tune Roy.

8 hardboiled eggs

1 large floury potato, peeled and diced into sizeable chunks

large pinch salt

1 tsp turmeric

2 large onions

large ‘thumb’ of ginger

3 large garlic cloves

1 heaped tsp ground cumin

1 small tsp ground coriander

1/2 tsp ground chilli, or to taste (leave it out if you don’t like heat)

2 bay leaves

2 large tomatoes, diced, or about 200g tinned chopped tomatoes

water

Coriander leaf, to finish

vegetable oil, for frying

Toss the eggs and potatoes with the turmeric and salt. Heat a tablespoon of oil in a wok or karahi, then fry the eggs over a medium heat until they are golden and vaguely crisp. Remove the eggs. Fry the potatoes in the same oil over a low heat until they are half cooked, about 5 minutes. Remove the potatoes and set to one side. There’s no need to wash the pan out.

Whizz the onions, garlic and ginger in a food processor until you reach a very fine puree (you may need to do this in batches, depending on the size of your machine).

On a low heat, fry the cumin, coriander and chilli for a few seconds, then add the onion mixture to the pan. Add the bay leaves. Cook down on a low heat for about 15 minutes, until thick and heavily reduced. Add the tomatoes and cook down again for 10 to 15 minutes, until the oil separates from the vegetable mixture. It will look darker and may begin to stick to the pan.

Add the eggs and potatoes back to the pan with a splash of water, stir to combine and cook on a low heat until the potatoes are cooked through, around 10 minutes. The sauce should be thick enough to cover the eggs but loose enough to scoop with some bread, so add more water as you need to get the right consistency. Finish with chopped coriander leaf.