Thursday, October 05, 2006

Spice

Once upon a time we were adventurous cooks and eaters, whisking all around the globe in the course of one day’s meals. Then came children.

The first child agreeably downed mild chicken korma baby puree and we celebrated. Our children would be cosmopolitan in tastes, we would not have to adjust our eating patterns to accommodate fads and fussiness.Until he was nearly two he ate everything we offered him, then something in our smug demeanour must have alerted him that he was missing out on a developmental stage. One by one he eliminated previous favourite foods from his diet, until for a while he subsisted on plain boiled rice, plain yoghurt, apples, bananas, potatoes and bread with an occasional piece of plain meat. Note the emphasis on plain! No sauces were permitted to enliven the pure unadulterated ingredients. No foods might touch each other on the plate. Thus began the downhill slope into nursery food.

With one child I managed to cook us a seperate adult meal in the evenings. When the second and third joined us I went on strike. One meal henceforth for all of us. For a few years I have managed to feed us all with a repertoire of traditional English dishes, most of which had their roots in the nursery. Stews and casseroles were tolerated, as I could pick pieces of meat out for the kids, stir-fries likewise. The favourite was roast chicken with roast potatoes.

The spice rack however became a sad dusty relic of past flavours. Out of date cumin and turmeric faded into insipidity. My husband occasionally would express a wistful hope of something spicy.

So recently I have tried to reintroduce a little spice into our gastronomic lives. Nigel Slater’s Moroccan chicken recipe, with a slightly reduced amount of spices, made it past the flavour censors. Another recipe I tried from Madhur Jaffrey’s Cookbook was rejected. Reading through her book, which has languished unexplored on our shelves for years, I found a few vegetable recipes that were simple enough to do alongside a main meal and inspiration struck. A spicy vegetable side dish for the parents. Now I can feed us all the vegetables that the kids won’t eat, aubergine, spinach, peppers with a variety of authentic Indian spice combinations, liven up our tranquillised palates and embellish the plain meals the children desire. Maybe one day they’ll be sufficiently curious to try the grown-ups’ special dish and then we will take the first step towards the cosmopolitan family gastronomy that we once so optimistically hoped for.

Here is Madhur Jaffrey’s recipe that broke new culinary ground for me recently.

Neela’s Aubergine and Potato

4 tbs vegetable oil
½ tsp whole black mustard seeds
5oz/140g peeled diced potatoes ( ½ in/1 ½ cm cubes)
4oz/115g dice aubergine (½ in/1 ½ cm cubes)
1½ tsp ground coriander
1 tsp ground cumin
¼ tsp ground turmeric
1/8 –1/4 tsp cayenne pepper
½ tsp salt
1 tbs fresh green coriander (optional)

Heat the oil in an 8-10in/20-25cm pot with a lid, over a medium-high flame. When hot put in the mustard seeds. As soon as they start to pop (just a few seconds) put in the potato and aubergine. Stir once. Add the coriander, cumin, turmeric, cayenne and salt. Stir and fry for one minute. Add 3 tbs water, cover immediately with a tight fitting lid, turn heat to low and simmer gently for 10-15 minutes or until the potatoes are tender. Stir every now and again. If the vegetable seem to catch at the bottom of the pan add another tablespoon of water. Garnish with the chopped fresh coriander if you like.

I had all the spices except the mustard seeds and it was good even without them, but I will try and add them to my new revived spice rack, as they feature in a lot of her recipes.

Eastern Vegetarian Cooking and Madhur Jaffrey’s more recent World Vegetarian are both an excellent resource for vegetarians or those wishing to cut down on meat, as so much of Indian and Eastern cooking is vegetarian by tradition. Endless ways have evolved over a thousand years of making the same vegetable take on new taste sensations and interest. My mouth is watering now in anticipation of trying her bread recipes. I haven’t had Naan bread since we left London and came to a farm far away from the delights of takeaways and ethnic restaurants. Here whatever we want to eat we have to cook for ourselves. One step at a time I’m reaching beyond our self-imposed nursery and rediscovering the world through recipe books. Adventure beckons!

6 comments:

  1. I know, isn't it tragic how once interesting food gets dumbed-down for kids? I've had some success with meals from Nigella Lawson's How To Eat - we all love her pea and parmesan risotto (leaving out the wine) and her Chilli Con Carne (with chilli grinder on the table for the grown-ups). I like your idea of making kid-friendly food but with spicy side-dishes for the grown-ups. I think I might give that a go - especially as my eldest is starting to want to try different things. Keep us posted!

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  2. Kit I love your style of writing...the potato dish sounds very tempting...what is an aubergine? Doubt I have a ghost of a chance finding it in Kansas. I'll be reading your posts on exploring the Indian/African/Mid-east spices with anticipation of learning...and experimenting. We are trying to up the families intake of vegetables...somehow my mainstay of a package of Birdseye frozen "fresh steamed" peas and carrots and pearl onions seems so ho hum boring....I can cook and eat vicariously through you though! :) If I can find the ingredients for these I'll give them a go!

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  3. Aubergine is egg-plant/melanzane/brinjal, Jenny. The only vegetable my oldest two kids will eat though is broccoli, nibbling at the 'tree' part and leaving the stalks! Raw carrot sometimes and middle one likes cucumber. Youngest is the best at vegetable consumption, not quite sure why.

    I love risotto too Charlotte but my rice-loving children turn their noses up at it when it's all mixed up with stuff, so I have to cook plain rice to go with it for them....

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  4. Thanks Kit! We have the eggplant (aubergine) here! Aubergine is a color-word and it is the deep purple of an eggplant. I can do this! Saturday is my market day...will be searching for the aubergine and black mustard ( that could pose a challenge) we have yellow mustard seed..is that the same?

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  5. Ah spices!
    They have lost their place on our menus, too. Tonight I am making chili, but there will be two versions, one with spices and red beans, and one with out spices and without redbeans. But as they get older, my girls are getting braver with their tastebuds.

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  6. Oh how I wish I could sit at your table and feast! Spice or not!!

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Thanks for your comments - I appreciate every one!