Vegetable Chickpea Curry : The Evolution of a Dinner.
What follows is a typical representation of an evening meal taking shape in Mum’s kitchen.
With no recipe to work from, the nature of the dish depended on what was in the fridge and what was in the pantry (plus what was in Mum’s repertoire of similar dishes that she keeps stored away in the pantry of her memory). As I know all too well, even when there is a recipe, 9 times out of 10, Mum will end up modifying it.
The process that Mum applied to the Vegetable Chickpea Curry was a ‘let the dish evolve’ approach.
“Let’s not be precious. We’ll do our own thing and hope it tastes good”.
And so, this direct quote from Mum started this dinner process off. We would just rely on our creativity, and make it up as we went along. This was the way we worked, adding ‘a bit of this and a bit of that’ throwing ingredients together to end up with a meal.
To hot oil in a fry-pan we added chopped onion, then garlic. Celery was added next.
I was preparing the celery, washing the stalks, and getting ready to slice it on the chopping board. “How do you want this cut?” I asked, innocently. Before I knew what was happening, Mum had whisked the celery out of my hands and was standing over the the hot frying pan. She stood, celery in one hand, the potato peeler in the other: “this is how to do it” and speedily she sliced away at the celery stalk, slicing through it in no time, adding :“When the peeler gets too close to my knuckles, I pop the rest of the celery into my mouth”. And that was that, the celery was sliced and dispatched in a few seconds.
In this comical little episode, (a frequent occurrence in Mum’s kitchen), the master has shown the novice how it’s done. The novice, (me), looked inwards for a moment as the filing cabinet of my memory squeaked open and I mentally filed the information neatly in the folder labelled ‘Cooking, (vegetables)’ then under the sub-section of ‘celery (slicing)’. “Well, onto the next thing then!”, I thought, while looking for another task to take on.
The onion and celery were left to soften in the hot pan, then Mum added “just a shake” of mustard seeds. Next was approximately a couple of teaspoons of curry powder. The amount is not an exact science because the amount of vegetables in the pan would continue to grow. And by the time we had added most of the chopped vegetables the pan was almost overflowing with an abundance of what was in Mum’s fridge.
Added to the onion and celery in the pan were: sliced carrots, cubed pumpkin, chunks of green pepper, a small amount of cubed marrow, chunks of kumara, courgette, broccoli and cauliflower.
Mum always has some chickpeas in the pantry: we prefer to use canned chickpeas as they are already softened in brine. Mum says: “I’ll get those out of the cupboard before I forget”. (Now, please remember that quote as it’s important for later. Also, thanks to the wisdom of hindsight, I’ll take the opportunity to add a little smirk and a chuckle here at the expense of Mum’s quote).
The vegetables were left to ‘sweat’ for a bit in in the pan with the lid on. Next, for a boost of flavour we added a vegetable stock cube, first dissolved in about ¾ of a cup of hot water. Salt and pepper went in too.
We then began clearing up the bench, while the vegetables in the pan, covered with the lid, were left fragrantly simmering away and soaking up the stock water.
As an ‘evolving’ recipe, it is not a stable thing. In the fridge, Mum discovered a jar of red curry paste. “I think that would taste nice in it….” So next thing, another pan is heated on the stove top, oil is added, then the curry paste stirred about quickly to brown it off and bring out the flavours. This is then added to the pan of simmering vegetables. The amount of vegetables was a lot more than we had expected, so “I’ll add some more curry powder” says Mum. In goes some more powder.
I was frantically trying to write down the list of ingredients we had used. As I was mentally going through the list of vegetables, trying to take stock of what was in the pan, I suddenly remembered “Potato. Did we add potato?” I asked.
No, we hadn’t. Mum says thoughtfully: “Some potato would be nice in there too, potato goes good with curry”. We still had time to add potato if we cubed then boiled it in a separate pot. Before I had time to write ‘potatoes’ on my list of ingredients, and as if there wasn’t enough vegetables in the pan, Mum has potatoes peeled and cubed and in a pot of boiling water.
When the potatoes were cooked through, they were drained and added to the rest of the vegetable mixture. We had a taste, as all cooks do, and it tasted very, very good.
“Did we add coconut cream?” I couldn’t remember with everything else going on frenetically in the preparation. “Doesn’t look like we did”. Earlier on we had had a discussion about whether to add coconut cream to the mixture. Mum had a can in the pantry but said that we wouldn’t add it as it would make the vegetable curry too sweet and we would do without it for this curry. Later on, I noticed an open can of coconut cream on the bench, and Mum says, “I think we will add it as it makes it more creamy…..I think we’ll try it”. We added a small amount to a section of the pan and we each had a tentative taste. It added nicely to the flavour, so, in it went. It was about 70mls of coconut cream that went into the pan.
After all had heated, we served the vegetable curry with rice and crostini.
And boy, did it taste good.
After having eaten about quarter of the dish I had a sudden revelation and said “Do you know what’s missing……..? Chickpeas. I’m sure we were going to add chickpeas”. Mum says: “We’ve still got time”, and quick as a flash, Mum has left her dinner and is in the kitchen adding the chickpeas to the still warm pan on the stove top. “We can reheat it, and it’ll be ready when we have a second helping”.
A few mouthfuls later, and looking at her plate, Mum says, “this would look nicer if it had a bit of spinach – it would add a bit of colour. I’ve got some in the freezer, I can add it in now”. And she is seriously thinking of making a move to get up again from her meal to add the spinach. I have to stop her as this could go on forever.
To prove a point, the next day out of nowhere, Mum says “we should have put chilli in it, I had some in the freezer”.
My frantically scribbled ‘evolving’ recipe for Vegetable [Chickpea] Curry (with amendments).