Saturday, 8 September 2012

a september curry made with chickpeas, spinach and coconut

chickpea, spinach and coconut curry
september is a month of transition. it is on the cusp of two of my favourite seasons, summer and autumn. the morning sunshine is soft like custard. london often sees a last gasp of summer with a sticky and hot day or two interspersed with slightly cooler ones.  a hot day will return me to a colourful salad that celebrates the vibrant colours of berries and stone fruits. on days when there is a whiff of autumn i want something warm with autumnal tones. this curry is that kind of a day in a bowl.  

this is a not a fastidious recipe so feel free to play around with the spices. you can alter the consistency as well by simmering it longer for a sauce that compacts and clings to the chickpeas and spinach. or you could lengthen it with a bit of stock or water to have a runnier one. the only thing i would ask you to spend your time on is the browning of the onions. allow it to change shades slowly as this is what gives the curry its depth. o and i like to eat this on a bed of short grain brown rice, partly because of its nuttiness but also because of the contrast. brown rice has a strong constitution which is quite nice against the soft bite of the curry. you could use basmati though if you wanted something gentler. personally, i’d be quite content eating the curry on its own.

this curry gathers its warmth from curry powder, fresh root ginger and garlic. before i get to the recipe i want to tell you a bit about curry powder. it is thought to be a british inspiration most likely from colonial days and usually includes a mixture of turmeric, chilli powder, coriander, cumin, ginger and so forth. my first brush with it was as flavouring for coronation chicken during my undergraduate years and i had somewhat of a dizzying affair with it. looking back i think it was because the curried and mango chutney spiked mayonnaise that bound together strips of chicken and apricots brought together flavours that were a melding of pakistani and british food, both of which were a feature of my childhood. when cooking pakistani food it is very rare for me to use to ready made curry powder. this is because anyone who cooks pakistani or indian food will tell you that the ready made stuff is not as aromatic or fresh as grinding your own. and it most certainly is true.

but sometimes, just sometimes i like to cheat. and i usually do that when i want a curried soup, dressing or a quick curry like the one below. i am not finicky about what kind of use. it really depends on what is available and right now i have a bottle of sharwood’s curry powder (although i have used others in the past). spice ranges like bart’s and super markets do their own kind so have a look and see which one works for you as the composition tends to vary.

{chickpea, spinach and coconut curry}

two tablespoons sunflower oil
a large yellow or white onion sliced into thin half moons
half an inch piece of ginger, grated fine
three cloves of garlic, pounded to a paste
one and a half tablespoons curry powder
two and a half tablespoons tamarind paste
two tablespoons tomato paste
two tablespoons brown sugar
a teaspoon of chilli flakes
two cans chickpeas, drained
four hundred ml can of coconut cream
two hundred and fifty ml water
two hundred grams baby spinach
the juice of a large lemon
salt, to taste
thinly sliced red or green chilli to garnish
brown or white rice to serve

place a heavy bottomed pan on medium heat and allow the oil to warm. add the onions when the oil has heated through. fry the onions until they are a nutty brown. this will take you around ten to fifteen minutes.

once the onions are ready add the ginger and garlic frying them briefly to release their aromas. then add the curry powder, tamarind and tomato paste, chilli flakes and brown sugar. continue to stir for a minute or so.

now turn the heat up to medium high and add the drained chickpeas to the onions and spices, followed by the coconut cream, water and salt. allow the curry to come to a simmer. then reduce the heat to low and let the curry sit on the stove for ten minutes.

the spinach leaves are the last to go in and should only be cooked when you are ready to serve the curry. i usually put them in when i am ready to serve allowing them to wilt in the heat of the curry with the lid on. this keeps the leaves bright and allows them to retain some strength. stir the lemon juice through the curry in the end. the acid in it helps balance the sweetness of the curry.  

garnish with thin rounds of red chilli.  

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