A curry that makes the most of summer’s finest vegetables
Once upon a time, vegans were a relatively small bunch, at least in the UK, but no longer: the meat-free way of life is as alive and kicking as the animals it cherishes, on supermarket shelves, in restaurants and in the kitchens of hundreds of thousands around the country.
Vegetables are the backbone of my diet, because I was born into a Gujarati family. Although Gujarat looks out on to the fish-filled Arabian sea, many of its 62 million inhabitants are vegetarian by way of a promise made thousands of years ago to live according to the Hindu principle of ahimsa, or non-violence towards all living beings.
I didn’t grow up in Gujarat, but in Lincolnshire, the vegetable heartland of this country. Behind our house was a potato factory, and down the road fields brimming with cabbages like boulders and blushing beetroots; a lot of that produce ended up on our table, quickly cooked and lightly spiced. Somewhere in the middle of this cross-cultural Venn diagram, I developed a love for a simple, fresh diet without much meat.
A confession: I remain a part-time vegan in that I eat mostly vegetables, but occasionally eat meat, fish or dairy. But I want to eat and cook this way more, and to make this a column for everyone: vegans after fresh ideas, part-timers like me, even the agnostic. To the uninitiated, vegan recipes can seem complicated, rules-based or full of pseudo-science. (I promise never to tell you why cavolo nero is good for you, but I will tell you how to make it delicious.) I don’t think it needs to be this way; after all, many cultures – from India to Indonesia, the Mediterranean to Mexico – make vegetables the main event without making a song and dance about it.
I’ll be bringing you recipes from India, my centre of gravity, and also from around the world – because good food doesn’t stop at a border.
New potato, chard and coconut curry
This dish started life in Karnataka, on the west coast of India. It’s a spin on saagu, a curry of whatever vegetables happen to be in season, cooked gently in a soothing, spiced coconut sauce. It’s filling enough to be restorative, quick enough to cook midweek and light enough to be good company on a summer’s night. If you don’t have a blender, chop the garlic, ginger and chillies as finely as your fingers and knives will allow, and cook for an extra five minutes. Serves four.
- 1 tsp cumin seeds
- 2.5cm piece ginger, peeled and roughly chopped
- 2 green finger chillies, roughly chopped
- 3 garlic cloves, peeled
- 30g unsweetened desiccated coconut
- 400ml tin coconut milk
- 3 tbsp rapeseed oil
- 1 large onion, peeled, halved and thinly sliced
- 600g new potatoes, cut in half lengthways
- 1 ½ tsp garam masala
- ½ tsp turmeric
- 1 tsp salt
- 200g rainbow (or normal) chard, stems cut into 4cm pieces, leaves shredded
- 250g frozen peas, defrosted
Put the cumin, ginger, chillies, garlic and desiccated coconut in a blender with just enough of the coconut milk to blitz everything to a smooth paste. Add the rest of the coconut milk and lightly pulse (over-mixing might split it) to a sauce-like consistency.
In a wide frying pan for which you have a lid, heat the oil over a medium flame, then fry the onion for five minutes, until translucent. Put in the potatoes cut side down and fry for around 10 minutes, until they are lightly golden brown and the onions are soft, dark and sticky.
Stir in the garam masala, turmeric and salt, then add the coconut sauce and bring up to a gentle bubble. Add the chard stalks, cover and cook for five minutes. Add the leaves and peas, cover again and simmer for a final five minutes, until the chard stems, peas and potatoes are tender and the leaves have wilted.
Serve with basmati rice or chapatis and a fiery pickle on the side.
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