Friday, March 18, 2011

Tasty Experiments

Nutty chicken curry
In an interesting coming together of circumstances, I find that I'm changing my eating habits. I'm not bad as a cook but there are times when life's pressures get to a point that I take refuge in 'old favourites', and variety goes right out of my repertoire. Old favourites such as spag bol, roast chicken, home-made burgers, chicken breasts in creamy sauce, kedgeree, sausage and mash, spaghetti carbonara, and so on make such a regular appearance that there's a danger of identifying the day of the week by the meal.

It never got that bad, but I was beginning to realise that, as the weeks went by, we were always eating the same things, and that is very boring. Then a number of things happened.

First, my dearly beloved announced that he was going to eat as little meat as possible as he is really vegetarian de coeur and, while difficult in a business context, at home he aimed to practically give it up totally. This meant at my home too.

Secondly, I discovered a really useful food website, BBC Good Food. I like it because it has lots of tasty recipes, including vegetarian ones; they are well explained, are mostly easy to do and don't take all day. They don't seem to have a huge list of bizarre ingredients either, although if you have a bizarre ingredient to hand, you can search for a recipe in which to use it. Another thing I like is the comments section where people leave comments on how they rate the dish, what changes they made because they didn't have all the ingredients, and other suggestions.

Thirdly, I found I wanted to diversify my tastes and explore different flavours, trying out chillies and other Asian and oriental dishes.

Fourthly, because I had a recent non-scare concerning my health and thought it was high time, anyway, that we ate a bit less meat and hopefully cut down on my food bill (some hope!).

I have taken to buying in packets of cereals - mixtures of quinoa, barley, rice, couscous, etc. - and pulses - red lentils, chickpeas, split green peas. I don't know if I'm also, subconsciously, laying in siege stores, stocking my pantry with dried goods as a buffer against rising prices.

I've had to buy in a few spices I didn't have previously, but no great investment, and it was great fun to wander round the shelves of Mondial Market in Le Cres once I'd stocked up on Yorkshire tea and baked beans.

One of the best dishes I've tried so far is the Coconut dhal recipe. Made with red lentils, coconut milk, and green chillies, it was quick, easy and very comforting after our bike ride in the wet and windy Aude. The fried onion added a lovely luxurious crunch.

My TWDB had his daughter over the other weekend and together we rustled up a Chickpea, aubergine and tamarind curry. The aubergines were roasted in the oven drizzled with oil and added to the other vegetables including green beans in a tasty stock perked up with garam marsala and mustard seeds. We served it with lemon rice and naans. It went down a bomb.

My boys are notoriously fussy about certain vegetables so I made a Spicy root and lentil casserole which had carrots and parsnips in it (on the black list) and it went down without a murmur. I like to use seasonal produce wherever possible so this one was perfect for a nasty winter's day. When I told them they had been eating carrots, which they had noticed anyway, natch, they said that the curry made them taste really good. I also excelled myself that day and made some naans. The bread machine did all the hard work and then I pored over a frying pan waiting for them to cook. It's a time-consuming process as each one takes about 5 minutes, so it's not something I'm going to do too often, but they did taste fabulous, much much better than the ones I buy in Carrouf.

Last night I made a Nutty chicken curry which had peanut butter, Greek yoghurt and chicken breast chunks in a sauce of coriander, ginger, and red chillies. I stirred into it some leftover mixed cereals and it was delicious. It wasn't too powerful, but had a good kick.

The boys are perfectly happy to have meat-free meals and seem to love the spices I've been using, so this has encouraged me to try many dishes I wouldn't have thought of cooking before. The good thing about Asian vegetarian recipes is that they don't base most dishes around cheese. As my two don't eat it, many British staples are out of the question.

Come the summer I'll be testing their resistance to peppers and aubergine which they currently detest, but may find edible if disguised in a tasty curry. Where there's a will there's a way... maybe.

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