I have been yearning for India. A few years ago, in another life, I spent a long, happy time there. It is not an easy country to love; it is a slow-burner. But let me tell you this: when it gets you, it really gets you. Gets you to the extent where, when the time comes to leave, you sob at the airport, on the flight, and in a taxi in Sri Lanka. If home is where the heart is, then I will always find myself at home in this crazy, frustrating, astonishing country. Amongst its many charms, the ones that sneak up on you and catch you unawares, the ones that take your feelings for a country from "ok well maybe this isn't so bad after all" to "I adore this place" for me were twofold. Firstly, the people. Obviously in a country of 1.2 billion people not all of them are adorable. But so, so many of them are. Charming and funny and kind - oh, so kind. Possibly one of the reasons I felt such an affinity with the people of India is the main way kindness and hospitality are demonstrated is through food. I was lucky enough to visit some private homes while I was there - I was invariably given food, from chai and biscuits to a brand new fruit, Sapodilla (7 years on and the taste and the texture still haunt my dreams), to celebratory biryani. I love this way of going on because that is what I do. Food is my way of saying to people "I like you. Please like me". And the food in India - oh my word, the food. I picked up a couple of recipes that I will replicate here soon, but my travels there sparked an interest in not only eating Indian food and all its many variations, but cooking it. I worship at the altars of Madhur Jaffrey and Atul Kochhar.
So here I go with a totally in-authentic recipe. Why this and not one from one of my Indian Cooking Heroes? Ach, as already established, I'm quite lazy. My most recent book acquisition is the Hairy Dieters and, just in case I haven't banged on quite enough about it, I'm trying to keep an eye on what I'm eating at the moment. And to be fair to those cheeky chappies, I have had nothing but successes from their recipes - I can thoroughly recommend their Cawl, which gets the thumbs up from my husband (a genu-ine Welshman), and the Nut Roast from their Christmas book is a million miles away from the cliché it could have been. In this book is a section on Fakeaways, re-creating takeaway favourites at a lower cost to the waistline. I was lazily flicking through it, fancied some Indian food, and hit on the Chicken Jalfrezi. I had no chicken in, but a quick inventory of the fridge revealed it was overflowing with lovely late-summer vegetables, so that's what I went with.
This is a sort-of Jalfrezi as it doesn't contain that mix of fried onion slices, peppers and fresh tomatoes that are usually associated with it. But the sauce base is the same. Big thumbs up from us - we had it with the leftover Green Rice that I am now happy to report freezes and reheats really well. Nice kick to it without being blow-your-head-off hot. Totally authentic? Not a chance. Good enough under the circumstances? Absolutely.
And until the time comes when I can travel once more to my beloved India, I will get as close to it in any way I can. This will do just fine for now.
Vegetable Sort-Of Jalfrezi
Adapted from The Hairy Dieters
2 green chillis, chopped
1 tablespoon sunflower oil
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
1 onion, sliced
3 medium potatoes, diced into 2cm pieces
1 small aubergine, diced into 2 cm pieces
1 bundle silverbeet (chard), shredded
1 small head of broccoli, cut into florets
100g flat beans or runner beans
1 can tomatoes
1 tablespoon ground cumin
1 tablespoon garam masala
1 teaspoon ground turmeric
1 tablespoon caster sugar
1 teaspoon flaky sea salt
200ml cold water plus one tablespoon
2 tablespoons buttermilk or natural yoghurt
2 teaspoons cornflour
In a large pan, over a medium heat, add the oil then fry the onion, garlic and chilli for a few minutes. Add the spices and fry, stirring, for a couple more minutes. Don't let the garlic or spices burn.
Add the potatoes and aubergine, cook for a couple of minutes until they start to absorb the flavours. Add the tomatoes, sugar, and salt. Add the water, stir in the buttermilk or yoghurt, and bring the sauce to a simmer. Cook for about 9 minutes until the potatoes are just tender - the sauce should be reduced by about a third. Add the silverbeet, broccoli and runner beans, cook for another couple of minutes until just cooked.
Mix the cornflour with the tablespoon of water to form a smooth paste. Stir this into the sauce and simmer for a few seconds until the sauce thickens, stirring constantly.
Serves 5, generously.