Mum’s stuffed courgette curry (based on Snakecoy curry)

A visit to my home city (Sheffield) for the June bank holiday provided an ideal opportunity to document one my Mother’s many outstanding home cooked Anglo Indian dished that have stood the test of time (and taste) in our family.

The dish is basically the same as a ball curry (curried meatballs in sauce) but with the added attraction of some of the meat being stuffed into tender fresh courgettes, before being gently simmered in the sauce. The rest of the mince is shaped into balls and cooked.

The original version of this dish, in India, is normally cooked with an Asian vegetable called “Snakecoy” or “Snakegourd” which is a long light green vegetable, particularly suitable for stuffing.

Snake Coy (or Gourd)

Because these are  generally unavailable in the UK (although I did manage to buy some once in Tooting, South London – and when I took them home Mum made a magnificent dish from them), courgettes are a viable alternative and prove to be very tasty when cooked in the the curry.

Although I’ve seen Mum do this a few times, I still checked the recipe, because it is, without fail, always better than my own cooking…. years of experience there I think.. 🙂

I also was careful not to get to intrusive while trying to take photos, since I know how touchy I am when people are getting in my way in the kitchen…

Ingredients:

For the stuffing / meatballs

  • 1lb mince (turkey, pork of beef or any combination of such)
  • 1 small onion
  • 3-4 cloves garlic
  • 1 inch pce ginger
  • 2 green chillis (or more according to taste)
  • 1 tsp dried mint
  • Salt and pepper
  • 1/4 Mixed spice
  • 2 green chillis

For the curry

  • 8 Cloves
  • 3-4 pces Cinnamon
  • 8 curry leaves
  • 2 large onions
  • 2-3 tsp coriander powder
  • 1 tsp cumin
  • 1/2 tsp tumeric
  • 1/2 tsp mustard powder
  • 1/2 tsp chilli powder
  • 1/2 tsp garlic powder
  • 1/2 tsp ginger powder
  • About 4 courgettes
  • 1 tin tomatoes
  • 4 potatoes
  • Small pce of coconut
  • salt to taste
  • hot water to (enough to cover the courgettes/meatballs)
  • A squeeze of lemon
  • some fresh coriander

The first step is to prepare the mince for the stuffing / meatballs.
Chop the onion, ginger, garlic and green chillies as finely as you can, and mix thoroughly the mince and the rest of the ingredients.
This can then be left to stand while you prepare the courgettes.

Stuffing / meatballs mixture

Hollow out the courgettes ready for stuffing. This is best done (carefully) with a small sharp knife.

Courgettes ready for stuffing

Stuff the courgettes and form the remaining mince into small meatballs and set aside.

To prepare the curry, first fry the cinnamon, cloves and curry leaves in hot oil for a few minutes.
Then add the chopped onion. When the onion has softened add the masalas (coriander powder, cumin, tumeric, mustard powder, garlic powder, ginger powder, chilli powder) and fry for another few minutes.

Frying the spices

When the spices have fried down sufficiently (take care they don’t burn on the bottom of the pan) carefully add the stuffed courgettes, meatballs, tomatoes, coconut and salt. Then pour in the hot water and bring to a gentle simmer.
After about 30 mins add the potatoes, simmer for another 15-20 mins.
As you can see from the photo below, must be gentle simmer since the stuffing has a propensity to want to work it’s way out of the courgettes if boiled to vigourously.

Simmering the curry

When the potatoes are cooked, add the fresh coriander and lemon, and serve.

On the plate

    Goose egg!!! (and hens egg) Tortilla (Spanish style omelette)

    1 Goose egg and 6 hens eggs

    As you can probably tell from the title of this post, I was unashamedly excited the other day when I walked into my butchers to find the last of a batch of freshly laid goose eggs lying on the counter.
    Needless to say I snapped it up before you could say  Ovo Branta Canadensis.
    The fact that I now had a goose egg in  possession only affirmed my notion that the perfect lunch for a rare British summer’s day such as the one we were experiencing, given the contents of my larder (and now my shopping bag) would in fact be a Spanish style omelette commonly known as Tortilla.
    Traditionally the basic version of this is made with sliced potato and egg, but as ever, I decided to embellish (or desecrate, depending on whether you’re a purist or not…) the dish and use a few extra ingredients….

    I started off with:

    • A small onion
    • A courgette (or zucchini for the Americans amongst you)
    • Asparagus (or asparagus for the Americans amongst you… about 8 stalks… I’d already started chopping by the way..)
    • 3 small potatoes
    • some cherry tomatoes (I only used about 3 or 4 of these)

    Ingredients

    And some smoked streaky bacon – about 6 rashers -which I sliced up as you can see below:

    Bacon

    I sliced the potatoes into 1/2 cm slices and par boiled them for 5-7 mins.
    Meanwhile I chopped the rest of the ingredients as below……

    Chopped ingredients

    I also had at hand a few freshly plucked sage leaves from the garden….

    Sage

    I then fried the bacon in some olive oil for about 5 mins, until the fat started to crisp…

    Fried bacon

    When the bacon was cooked, I poured out as much of the fat as possible and drained the bacon on some kitchen towel.

    Then I used 2-3 tsps of the rendered fat and olive oil from the bowl above to fry/soften/sweat down the vegetables for about 10 mins..

    onion, courgette and asparagus in the pan

    Meanwhile I prepared the eggs. I used the goose egg and 6 hen’s eggs. In the pic below, you can see the difference in the size of the yolks.

    Goose egg and 4 of the hen's eggs

    Beat them up….

    Beaten eggs (some eggs were harmed in the making of this picture..)

    Next I added the potatoes, tomatoes, chopped sage and bacon to the vegetables that had by now softened up nicely in the pan…

    Tater's, 'matos and bacon in't pan

    Poured in the eggs… and turned on the grill..

    Eggs in

    After about 10 minutes I could tell the egg had started to set underneath the top liquid layer. To test for this, gentle shake the pan from side to side, and although the top will wobble and slosh, just below it should look fairly solid…

    Starting to set

    I then put the pan under a medium grill for about 5 mins to set the top. It came out looking like this, ready to serve.

    After being under the grill for 5 mins

    Now came the most important maneuver of the whole process: getting the tortilla the right side up on a plate.
    Having carefully removed the pan from the grill with a cloth due to the hot handle, I let it cool for a minute, since a clumsy accident at this stage would have resulted in the waste of the industrious efforts of the last 1/2 hour, and a precious goose egg…
    Finding a plate which neatly matched the size of the pan, I held it over and upended the whole arrangement.

    Luckily, it came out as pictured below:

    The tortilla, ready to eat...

    It had burnt a bit on the bottom as you can see, but in reality, although not to aesthetically pleasing, the onions and veg had caramelised nicely resulting in a sweet nutty flavour.

    Although it’s probably best with a crisp green salad, on this occasion I chose to eat it with two generously buttered sliced of white toast. Any complaints about this can be left in the comments at the end of the post…. 🙂

    Tortilla and toast...

    Summer curry: Prawns and courgettes cooked in yoghurt with freshly roasted spices

    I was feeling particularly energetic and enthusiastic yesterday, maybe it was the newly arrived sunshine, or maybe it was due to  having my first couple of glasses of rose wine this year (which was actually due to the sunshine anyway).

    Anyhow, I decided to roast and grind my own spices, rather than delving into my customary collection of ready ground powders.
    I’ve done this several times before, but for some reason (laziness in all probability) I always seem to remember it as a more laborious and work intensive process than it actually is.
    In reality, you can have a bowl full of freshly roasted and ground spices in about 5-7 mins, and for the resulting flavour, it’s well worth it. It’s certainly something I’ll be doing more from now on.
    Because of the aforementioned sunshine, I thought a prawn and courgette (or zucchini to the Americans amongst you) curry, would be a suitable light and fresh tasting option at this time of year.
    The amounts here will serve between 2-4 people, depending on appetite (or greediness)..

    Ingredients:

    • 2 medium onions
    • 4-5 cloves garlic
    • 1 pce fresh ginger (1-1/12 inches)
    • 2 red chillies
    • 3 tsps coriander seeds
    • 2 tsp cumin seeds
    • 3 cardamon pods
    • 1/2 tsp fennel seeds
    • 1 tsp tumeric
    • 1tsp mustard powder
    • 450-500g prawns (raw or cooked)
    • 2 courgettes (zucchini)
    • 3 tblsp natural yoghurt
    • 3 tblsp boiling water
    • 1tsp salt (or to taste)
    • 1 bunch fresh coriander
    • juice of half a lemon

    Method:

    The first thing I did was to assemble the whole spices for roasting: 3 tsp coriander seeds, 2 tsp cumin seeds, 1/2 tsp fennel seeds, 3 cardamon pods:

    Whole spices

    Heat a dry pan until very hot. Throw in the spices. After a few seconds you should get a wonderful aroma. Gently shake the pan to move/turn the spices.

    Spices roasting in the pan

    After 20-30 secs, the spices will start to colour and smoke. When this has happened (before they start to burn) remove from the heat and pour them into a mortar ready to ground with the pestle.

    Ready for grinding

    First crush the spices with firm downward strokes, then use a circular motion to reduce the crushed spices to a powder. Should take no more than 3-4 mins.

    Ground spices

    Next, chop and prepare the ingredients for the base of the sauce: Onions, ginger, garlic and red chillies.

    Sauce base ingredients

    Fry the base ingredients in a pan:

    Base ingredient frying

    Meanwhile, chop the courgettes into chunky pieces:

    Courgette chopped into chunks

    When the base ingredients have softened in the pan, add the ground spices, together with the tumeric and mustard powder, and fry.

    Fry the spices

    Add the courgette and coat in the spices.

    Add the courgette

    Next add the yoghurt and stir in.

    Add the yohurt

    Add the boiling water, mix well and leave to simmer on low uncovered for 20-30 mins, taking care not to dry up to much. Don’t worry if the yoghurt appears to curdle, you won’t notice when the sauce is cooked down.

    Sauce cooked down

    After the sauce has simmered and cooked down get ready to add the prawns. I used cooked prawns because I couldn’t get raw ones. Either is ok. If using cooked, just warm through thoroughly. If using raw, simmer until they go pink.

    Prawns

    Add the prawns and 1/2 bunch of fresh coriander (chopped) to the sauce.

    Prawns and coriander added to sauce

    Stir around thoroughly to coat all the prawns.

    Stir in the prawns

    Simmer for a few mins until the prawns are heated through thoroughly and have flavoured the sauce. Add the salt to taste at this point, and squeeze in the lemon.

    Ready to serve

    Serve, garnished with the rest of the fresh coriander. (Shown here with a buttered mushroom and saffron pullao)

    Served out


    Fusilli pasta with asparagus and pancetta in a dolcelatte and cream sauce

    I woke up this morning thinking of asparagus.

    Not that it’s especially unusual for me to wake up thinking of food, but it’s normally more of a breakfast type of fayre that draws my thoughts in the morning – and not just fry ups. There seems to be a tri-parity (I’m aware this isn’t a regular term, but you get my drift) between the full English option and a fancying for  the more simple arrangement of marmite or marmalade on toast or (all with real butter of course)..

    I do like asparagus of course, as I do most veg – a fact that I could happily present you with the year round, but it’s only at this time of year that I remember that I really like asparagus.
    The reason for this annual epiphany is the fact that the English (or more correctly British) asparagus season starts in late April and continues until about mid June.
    This fresh, and often locally grown  produce certainly ranks amongst the finest tasting veg I’ve ever eaten. I’m convinced I’m not imagining it’s flavoursome superiority over the imported varieties one can purchase throughout the rest of the year from supermarkets. Maybe it’s the food miles thing..?
    Also, fresh green asparagus is not to be confused with the pickled white asparagus to be had in salad form on the continent, which, pleasant as it is, is a completely different animal…(I mean vegetable of course)..

    For this dish, I imagined the juicy asparagus as a counterpoint to the small salty bites of pancetta, and coated in the creamy, clingy dolcelatte sauce – as I was eating my marmite on toast.
    Just a small aside here: does anybody else out there find that reading cookery books or watching gastronomic TV programmes (or in this case, me imagining my dinner to come) improves the experience of what is essentially a very basic snack..? Or is it just me…?

    Anyhow, I find fusilli pasta to be the best for these type of creamy sauces, since the shape of the pasta helps to hold its coating better.

    Here’s what you’ll need:

    Ingredients for the dish

    • Fusilli pasta – enough for 2 people
    • Some pancetta
    • A bunch of fresh asparagus
    • Some dolcelatte cheese (about 100g)
    • Some single cream (about 150ml)
    • A small onion
    • 2 cloves of garlic

    FIRST….spread some of the delicious dolcelatte cheese onto some small Italian crackers, so you can nibble while you’re cooking (along with the odd swig of wine of course..!)

    Necessary snacking material

    THEN….. fry the pancetta in some olive oil. Meanwhile, chop the onion and garlic finely.
    When browned remove the pancetta onto some kitchen paper to absorb excess grease, and drain and wipe the pan.

    Pancetta frying with onion and garlic at the ready

    Soften the onion and garlic in a little butter and oil
    Add a the dolcelatte and cream to the pan and heat gently until the cheese starts to melt.

    The cream and dolcelatte just in the pan

    Meanwhile, prepare your asparagus: Chop the woody ends off the stalks, and then chop the stems into small pieces, and chop off the spears whole.
    Arrange in the steamer, cover, and steam (or boil) for about 5-7 mins until done to your preference.
    Also, put your pasta on at this point…

    Asparagus in the steamer

    Keep the sauce on low and continue stirring to prevent from burning.
    Drain the pasta when done, and remove the asparagus from the steamer.
    Separate the spears from the smaller chopped stalk pieces and set aside.
    Add the stalk pieces to the sauce along with the pancetta and heat through.

    Sauce with the pancetta and asparagus stem pieces added

    Add the pasta to the pan, toss with the sauce until coated evenly.

    Toss the pasta in the sauce

    Serve, garnishing each dish with the spears and some freshly ground black pepper.

    The dish served out with a nice glass of white wine....

    Soups, Stews and Rock’n’Roll

    Adventures with a slow cooker on the Boy George tourbus

    I'm the one not wearing eyeliner....

    Eating well on tour can be a bit of a random affair.

    Mealtime arrangements can run the gastronomic gamut from elaborate catering through to a plate of curly sandwiches left too long in the dressing room.
    On this particular tour, we were by and large left to fend for ourselves foodwise. While there are sometimes a variety of interesting and quality eating establishments around venues, more often than not one is left to choose between a Wetherspoons pub meal, or some fish and chips. (There’s also pretty much always the “elephants leg”  kebab option, but I personally never go down that route).

    Happily though, this particular band includes a number of people who are keen, skilled cooks and interested in the value of a quality meal.. (there’s nothing more depressing than being on the road with a bunch of definite non-foodies who are only too willing to settle for the kebab option).

    The kitchen on a tourbus consists of a microwave, a kettle and a toaster, as well as a variety of basic cooking implements like a chopping board, knife etc etc. As you can imagine, it’s very much a “galley kitchen” affair, space obviously being at a premium.

    Our guitarist/MD John Themis already has a history of preparing delicious miso soups on buses. He does this by using miso paste and a sachet of Japanese fish stock to make the soup with boiling water. He then makes some noodles in the microwave, and poaches some salmon gently in freshly boiled water in a seperate bowl. These are then added to the soup, together with tofu, chopped spring onions, chillis or chilli oil, sesame oil and some sesame seeds.
    I sampled a bowl of this soup one afternoon, and it was outstanding, and considerably more nourishing than a service station sandwich.

    About half way through the tour, we decided to buy a slow cooker in order to open up our options for cooking on the road. John managed to pick one up on offer at ÂŁ30, so it wasn’t exactly a major investment.
    The cooker’s maiden voyage was a wholesome Irish stew made by John.
    Stopping at a limited Spar supermarket, John nevertheless managed to pick up all the ingredients necessary for this dish. I got back on the bus after a morning stroll around Eastbourne, to find Kevan the bassist and Bob the merchandise chap excitedly clamouring around the kitchen where John was a whirlwind of activity stacking the cooker with carrots, celery, onions, potatoes, chopped beef and some skillfully rolled meatballs, together with some mixed herbs and freshly ground black pepper.

    Irish stew being assembled

    He then made up some makeshift dumplings. Unfortunately we didn’t have any plain flour, so pure suet and water was used, and the dumplings were rolled small and compact, in anticipation of their richness.

    A cooking liquor was then assembled with a beef stock cube and some HP sauce dissolved into some boiling water and added to the dish, which was then covered, and left to cook on the medium setting.

    John rolling his dumplings for the Irish Stew..

    After about 3 hours (after soundcheck in fact) John did a check for seasoning, added some salt, and replaced the lid. Since a slow cooker can lose a considerable amount of valuable heat, when the lid is removed, we had to place a “DO NOT OPEN” sign on the lid, to stop hungry musicians and crew lifting the lid and having a sniff.
    After the gig, we exited the venue and got on the bus, where a delicious aroma was now pervading the air. (In fact, 2 of George’s die hard fans Kerstin and Sibylle who were standing outside the bus, commented that they could smell the food from there!)
    The Irish stew had now been on for more than 7 hours, and it was looking and smelling amazing. A true one-pot dinner, John was able to serve it in bowls, with nothing more than a bit of French bread on the side. After a week or so of eating out, the experience of some home cooking was incredibly comforting.

    John and Kevan ready to dish out the Irish stew..

    The next day (Sunday) we arrived in Lincoln early in the morning following an overnight drive.

    After the success of the Irish stew, I was thoroughly inspired to try and cook a chicken curry for after the show that night.
    The first step was to purchase the necessary ingredients. As it was a Sunday, my only hope was to find a large supermarket (there was another small Spar shop near the theatre, but they didn’t have half the stuff I required). I managed to locate a Tesco which was a good 15-20 walk away, so I set off on my quest, and eventually arrived back at the bus with some chicken, onions, chillis, spices, microwavable steamed rice, chappatis and ready cooked poppadums.
    The first problem to solve was how to fry the spices with the onions. To achieve this I chopped the onions in batches and “fried” them in a bowl with some sunflower oil in the microwave on the high setting for about 3 minutes to soften them up. Then, for each batch I added roughly 2 tsps ground coriander, 1 tsp cumin and 1/2 tsp tumeric, and “fried” them again in the microwave for 2-3 mins, again on high.
    All the onions (1 bag) yielded 4 batches. With the last batch I added 2 good tsps each of ginger and garlic paste, as well as the spices (fresh ginger and garlic would have been an option, but would have required more chopping and made me late for soundcheck).
    I then layered the ingredients in the slow cooker: 1 batch of onions, some chicken, some chopped red chillis and some diced potatoes. I continued layering up in this order until the cooker was full (luckily it was just about large enough to hold all the ingredients.)
    I made the sauce by dissolving some creamed coconut and tomato puree into some chicken stock made from a stock cube, and poured this into the slow cooker until the meat was pretty much covered. I then put the lid on, propped up the “DO NOT OPEN” sign, and went to soundcheck.
    Again, after souncheck, I tested and adjusted for seasoning, adding just a little salt.

    After the gig, the smell on the bus was most inviting, and anticipation was high. 5-10 mins before serving up I added a whole packet of chopped green coriander, replaced the lid and let it cook in a bit. Unfortunately I forgot to photograph the curry in the cooker before we started serving, but remembered to do so when we were halfway down:

    The curry, halfway through serving

    I was a initially little nervous the curry wouldn’t live up to expectations, but luckily those fears seem to have proved unfounded. With John’s help I dished up several servings in a production line fashion. We had the sachets of rice in the microwave (which only took 2 mins), and a toaster warming up the chappatis. Each serving was then garnished with fresh green coriander, chopped fresh red chillis and a poppadum.

    A serving of tourbus chicken curry

    There was enough for 12 servings all together, and more than enough chappatis and poppadums. So Bob the merchandise chap was suitably relieved when he arrived on the bus, as he’s always last back because of the nature of his job.
    Although most of us ate on the night, George and Jon the backing vocalist requested that we save their shares for the next day, due to not wanting to eat too late at night. So in fact, they would have sampled the best of it because it would have been marinating for a good 16 hours before they had their share. Curries are always better the next day…

    Below is a photo of Bob’s share with extra chillies:

    Bob's share served up with red chillies in background

    ….and this was Bob’s reaction:

    The next day we were travelling all day from Lincoln down to Swansea, so it was an ideal opportunity for John to once again knock up one of his delicious miso soups, but this time he made a large portion, big enough to feed the whole band, and just left it in the slow cooker on the low setting, so it would be warm all day for people to help themselves as and when they wished.

    He assembled it using the ingredients and method previously mentioned, but with the addition of poached eggs, which made it an even more inviting and balanced meal. After some discussion of how to best poach eggs on a tourbus, Kevan’s method of breaking the egg into a cup, with one teaspoon of water, and microwaving for 1 min was decided upon, and it proved to work a treat, as you can see in the photo below.

    Johns miso soup made and kept warm in the slow cooker

    The final day of the tour was a drive from Swansea to Cheltenham, and was the day when Kevan had promised us his signature dish of slow cooked beef in guinness casserole. Since we were setting off in the morning, and there was predictably a paucity of food outlets near the hotel, Kev took the precaution of purchasing all his ingredients the evening before from a large supermarket located conveniently next to the theatre.

    Kev’s plan for the next day was to rise early and do his preparation on the bus before we departed, rather than trying to cook on a moving vehicle. He was prevented from doing this however, by the minor setback of a bottle of sunflower oil that had fallen over and voided most of it’s contents onto the imitation wood floor of the bus kitchen, rendering the area a veritable oily ice rink. By the time we had placated the obviously not to pleased bus driver and persuaded the nice houseekeeping staff at the hotel to come out and aid in cleaning the area for us (most of which was done by John), it was time to leave.
    Not to be deterred, Kevan soldiered on bravely with chopping onions and carrots, while being periodically tossed back and forth by the moving bus. He even managed to trim the beef of most of it’s fat, not the easiest job while the bus was negotiating the roundabouts and corners of downtown Swansea…
    Eventually, he got the dish in the slow cooker. It consisted of beef, onions, carrots, peas, some good quality beef stock liquid, lots of black pepper, and of course guiness (2 cans sufficed I think). He thickened the sauce with plain flour mixed with a little water, which he added after a couple of hours. John also rolled some dumplings later on (this time with the correct 2:1 flour:suet correlation) and threw them in.
    After the gig, the stew smelled delicious as we boarded the bus. Predictably, is tasted every bit as good as it smelled as Kevan served it out – tender beef in a rich peppery guinness sauce with sweet carrots and peas, accompanied by creamy microwaveable mashed potatoes, and provided a fitting finale to a triumphant few days of experimenting with the possibilities of real home cooking for musicians on the road….
    Below is a photo of casserole in the slow cooker:

    The casserole ready to be served

    ..and one of the dish served out:

    The beef in guinness casserole served up with creamy mash

    …and Bob’s enthusiastic reaction upon tasting his share…..