One of my favourite things about travelling anywhere is the opportunity to eat something new. I love testing out my tastebuds in foreign lands, and discovering my new favourites (or maybe least favourites!) I have recently come back from travelling around Asia – please excuse my silence for the past few months – where I have been putting my tastebuds to the ultimate test, eating pad thai on the streets of Bangkok, vegetable kottu off a metal plate in a sri Lankan café and drowning in dahl in India.
The whole experience was absolutely amazing, of course, and so rich that it seems impossible to know where to start with any concise description. And it almost doesn’t feel like it really happened. I touched down in heathrow feeling slightly feverish, unused to and unprepared for the cold in the one jumper I had taken and a huge wool shawl I bought for the equivalent for £2.50, with my backpack absolutely stuffed full of dirty clothes, bags of tea and spices I’d bought and the presents I’d dutifully carried home for my family. And immediately it felt like a dream that I was groggily waking up from and could only half remember. (The grogginess was probably due to the fact I’d been travelling overnight for about fifteen hours!)
Having now gotten over the initial shellshock, and reacclimatised myself to the cold, I can look back on the amazing experiences I had, and the incredible food I tasted, with nothing but fondness, nostalgia, and a serious desire to hop back on a plane tomorrow and jet off in search of more adventure.
Last weekend I decided to put what I’d seen and tasted in Kerala, in southern India, to work with my take on a coconut curry. Despite attending a cooking class in Udaipur, Rajasthan, where I learnt how to char a chapatti directly on the flames of a gas grill, and how to fold a perfectly triangular samosa, this recipe is based on nothing more than things I ate- and my attempt to recreate the flavours in my own kitchen.
Coconut is a huge ingredient in southern Indian cooking, particularly in curries, where it’s used to add both sweetness and creaminess to any veg or fish curry. It’s not only used in cooking however- the fibres are spun into rope and then used to make the silent long boats that patrol the backwaters of kerala. Turmeric is also used in Indian cooking for everything- and it’s also prescribed as a medicine. Seriously, a spoonful of honey mixed with turmeric swallowed right before bed will cure any sore throat or runny nose! This recipe combines these two ingredients that are so central to Indian cooking- as well as a few of my own favourite veg! Coconut curries are served on banana leaves in kerala, which, sadly, are difficult to source in London- so you’ll have to use your imagination for that!
Cauliflower, Chickpea and Sweet Potato Coconut Curry
tablespoon coconut oil
4 cloves garlic
1 teaspoon ground turmeric
1/2 teaspoon cumin
1/2 teaspoon garam marsala
2 tins of coconut milk
2 large sweet potatoes
2 tins of chickpeas
coriander (to serve)
fresh chillies (to serve)
Finely chop the garlic. Peel the sweet potatoes and cut them into cubes.
In a large saucepan, heat the coconut oil until it has melted. Add the garlic, and cook for about a minute. Add in the turmeric, cumin and garam marsala and cook for about thirty seconds until they have formed a paste. Add the coconut milk and the sweet potatoes. bring the coconut milk to a gentle simmer.
Cook for about 15 minutes, or until the sweet potatoes have started to soften.
Chop the cauliflower into small florets, and add those to the curry. After two minutes, add the chickpeas.
Allow to cook until the sweet potato is soft enough that it can be easily pierced with a fork.
Dish the curry into bowls, and top with some chopped coriander and finely diced chillies.