Good company and an inspiring challenge

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Today’s been a lovely day. My friend Jo and I took our littler ones and went for a long walk in the autumn sunshine. We first met when we were both pregnant with our older children, both boys and both now in their first year of primary school. Jo now also has a wonderful, bright, chatty daughter and I have my sweet wee 4 month old baby boy. Good company and conversation built on the solidarity of shared experience meant that our walk was over all too soon and I’d managed the excellent trick of exercising without noticing.

A new Greek deli has opened at the bottom of Byres Road and we had a lovely chat with the friendly owners. I bought a spanakopita to munch as we walked and chatted. It was delicious even if the baby, strapped to my front in his carrier, ended up covered in a light dusting of filo shards. He’s fairly used to it – an occupational hazard of being carried everywhere. Further on we stopped for coffee and a scone at Kember and Jones and I coveted every one of the loaves. I resisted until another day as I knew we would never eat it today and it would be a tragedy for bread that nice to go to waste. Nearing the end of our walk we stopped into KRK in Woodlands Road where I bought some beautiful little aubergines for the curry I was planning.

It does me good on so many levels to get out in the sun and walk and talk. As the dark of winter starts drawing in I know I need to get out in the daylight as much as I can, to shore me up against the long nights that are coming. Sunshiny food, fragrant and warming, was the perfect end to the day.

Aubergine, coconut and tomato curry

Some of my best friends are vegetarians. Really. They’re kind enough to persist in reading my recipes on here and encouraging me despite the fact that for those amongst us who don’t eat meat it’s a bit of a thankless task. I had been feeling vaguely guilty about this anyway when my pal Fi commented on my last meaty blog post to Facebook “I dare you to make something vegan!” What could I do but accept that challenge?

I almost completely succeeded – until I added a dollop of natural yoghurt right at the end! To be fair, this was for the boy’s portion (he’d made me promise that next time I did a blog he’d get to “eat the photo”) and it worked well to cool it down a wee bit for him. It’s entirely optional so if you’re vegan rather than vegetarian it’ll still be good without it.

I won’t ever give up meat entirely but I would happily eat less. Making this recipe has inspired me to introduce my household to at least one meat free evening meal a week. I’m crazy for anything that’s a pulse at the moment so some brown chickpeas (also in my chicken double chickpea curry) made it in here too. Pulses are a fantastic veggie source of protein and with them in there I didn’t miss having meat at all.

About 600g of aubergine – I used 1 large and 8 smaller ones but 2 large would be fine
2 medium onions
2 generous handfuls of cherry tomatoes – about 250g
1 tin coconut milk
1 tin brown chickpeas
1 thumb sized piece of fresh ginger
2 fat cloves of garlic
1/2 – 1 chopped chilli depending on how hot you want it
1 teaspoon of medium curry powder
1 teaspoon turmeric
8-10 cardamom pods
2 teaspoons cumin seeds

Finely chop the onions, garlic and ginger and fry them in a little oil over a low heat. Once they are started cooking, put a lid on and leave them on the heat to soften for 10 minutes or so.
Meanwhile cut the aubergine into large chunks and cook it on a griddle pan or under the grill until it starts to brown.
Smash open the cardamom pods to get the black seeds from inside. Throw the outsides away and use a pestle and mortar to crush the seeds slightly.
Make a space in the middle of the onions and add the cardamom, cumin seeds, turmeric and curry powder to the pan. Let the heat toast them until the fragrance begins to release then stir them through the onions.
Roughly chop the tomatoes and add them to the pan along with the tin of coconut milk and the chilli.
Add the aubergine to the pan and cook with the lid on for half an hour until the aubergine is lovely and soft.
Add the drained, rinsed chickpeas and cook with the lid off for a further five minutes.
Sprinkle with chopped coriander and serve with rice and Indian bread.

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Chicken double chickpea curry

I’ve been making versions of this dish for a few months now since I discovered the original recipe on the BBC Good Food website. We love chickpeas in our house and I am particularly fond of kala chana or brown chickpeas. If you’ve not tried them, you should – they are smaller and have a bit more bite to them and a slightly nuttier flavour. Supermarkets tend to stock them these days, sometimes in the ‘international’ food section or just in with the other pulses. The original recipe only contains one tin of normal chickpeas but more and more often these days I find myself adding an extra tin of pulses to recipes like this. It’s economical as the dish goes further and I just prefer the less meaty result. I like to think my husband is coming round to my way of thinking.

I’ve made this recipe using chicken breast as originally suggested and it was lovely and probably very low fat but I think all in all I prefer the result you get when using chicken thighs. I’ve tried cooking it on the bone with the skin on but we’re trying to lose a bit of weight round here so skinless, boneless thigh meat is our happy medium – moister and tastier (to my mind) than breast meat but without the skin a reasonably low fat option.

Making my own curry paste always struck me as too much hassle in the past but using the food processor it’s really very straightforward and the whole dish can be made in under an hour. You can adjust the spiciness by leaving out some of the chilli – the boy, who is 5 and not mad keen on very spicy food enjoyed eating this.

  • 2 onions, quartered
  • 3 garlic cloves
  • 3cm piece of ginger, peeled and roughly chopped
  • 2 tablespoons of medium curry powder
  • ¼ teaspoon of turmeric
  • 2 teaspoons of paprika
  • 1 red chilli, seeded and roughly chopped (or less if you prefer less heat)
  • Fresh coriander
  • Chicken stock cube/powder
  • 425ml boiling water
  • About 500g of boneless, skinless chicken thigh fillets
  • 1 tin chickpeas, drained and rinsed
  • 1 tin kala chana/brown chickpeas, drained and rinsed
  • Small pot of natural yoghurt

Put the onions, garlic, ginger, chilli and spices into a food processor and blend them into a paste. Add a tablespoon of water to help it blend if you need to.

Cook the paste in a large heavy based pan over a medium heat for about 10 minutes, stirring it frequently.

Add the stock and the boiling water and mix it in.

Add the chicken and simmer for half an hour or until the meat is tender.

Add the two tins of chickpeas and cook for another ten minutes.

Serve with basmati rice and naan or chappatis. Drizzle with the plain yoghurt and sprinkle some chopped fresh coriander on top.