On Sunday we awoke to find a young fox sprawled on the back lawn, enjoying a morning kip. To begin with I thought it was dead but then it’s ears twitched, annoyed at the bug that was hovering around its head. Matt tapped on the window and the fox sprang to its feet and stared directly at us with crystal clear eyes before hopping over the back fence with nonchalant ease. It was a majestic, mesmerising creature.
The city is full of wildlife and some encounters make me catch my breath in joy. Others, alas, make me stamp my feet in irritation. Something low-slung and snuffly has been at the strawberries – they’ve already been infested with woodlouse but this week’s visitor was significantly larger, squashing some plants, chowing down the red berries and tossing unripe fruit around the bed.
The slugs and bugs are still rampant. This week has seen the first dahlia, calendula and even crysanthemum come into bloom – and every single one of these has been nibbled. But let’s look on the bright side: blooms this early bode well for a summer-long harvest.
Last week I wrote about the failed carrot sowings and it is then with some masochism that I give you today’s recipe – an Indian carrot salad that at first glance sounds dull as anything but is in fact AMAZING.
My friend Tune taught me with this dish a few years ago and now, everytime I make Indian food, it’s a given that this salad will form part of the feast. Tune was raised in Calcutta and is the best cook I know: when she gives you a recipe, you take note. To make her carrot salad, you temper whole spices in ghee before piling in grated carrot, coconut and cashew nuts, stir-fry them for a scant few minutes – and that’s it. Easy as anything. The carrots absorb the spiced oil and somehow manage to both toast and soften at the same time, whilst the coconut and cashews lend some texture. It’s light, so it’s a great accompaniment to steaming bowl of rich rogan josh, but packs a punch of flavour and is also cheap as chips. Or perhaps cheap as carrots.
This is best made with fresh curry leaves, which you can buy from Indian food shops or online (try spicesofindia.co.uk), but dried will do if that’s all you have. If you don’t like the heat then leave the chilli out.
Tune’s Carrot Salad
Serves two as part of a meal, with leftovers
Oil or ghee, for frying
1 tsp black mustard seeds
Pinch of dried Kashmiri chilli flakes or whole dried chilli (optional)
Pinch of curry leaves
2 or 3 good sized carrots, peeled and grated
Heaped tablespoon of desiccated or shaved coconut
Heaped tablespoon of cashew nuts
Heat an Indian karahi (cooking pan) or a frying pan over a medium heat. Add the oil or ghee, then add the mustard seeds, chilli and curry leaves. Fry until the mustard seeds start to pop, then pile in the grated carrot. Stir fry for a minute or so until the carrot begins to soften, then add the coconut and cashews. Continue to stir and cook for two more minutes – you could add a splash of water if it looks like it might catch. When the carrots are softened but by no means mushy, remove from the heat. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Serve warm as part of an Indian meal with curry, rice or flatbreads.