Growing up, having a curry or a Chinese was a rare event. I still remember the first time we had a Chinese takeaway – it seemed so exotic and I was overwhelmed by the choice. I remember going to pick it up with my father, entering a tiny shopfront in a dodgy part of the local market town and getting that first whiff of spice with an undertone of MSG. Driving home I was in charge of making sure the bag didn’t fall over. It was warm and slightly soggy against my legs, trapped between my knees with a plastic bag of prawn crackers balanced on the top. Dad was a careful chauffeur that night, not least because it had cost what seemed a fortune to me at the time. When we got home, the table was carefully laid and a heated plate was on – it was all terribly formal and not at all what you saw on TV, where American actors casually scooped noodles out of a cardboard carton with chopsticks.
Curry was something we occasionally went to Bradford for. One birthday we went to a curry house for a main course and home again for dessert – it was raining, and my parents were worried about parking. The naan bread came hanging off a huge silver rack, and the poppadums were warm and glistening with oil. My mother’s version of curry bore no resemblance to what was served up by the smiling waiters. I must have been about ten or eleven, and I was wearing new shoes which I kept picking up the tablecloth to peek at. I loved every bite. Thus began a lifelong love affair with the onion bhaji.
Homemade curry was, looking back, a very anglicized version. I’m still not sure why my mother feels compelled to offer tiny dishes of chopped up banana and apple, along with sultanas and dessicated coconut, as an accompaniment. She’s a fabulous cook but these English variations in no way prepared me for the real thing.
So getting into spices and exotic ingredients took some time. Now, I’m a complete convert.
Last night I peeked into the fridge and spied a rather sad looking aubergine. And I came up with this, which whilst it might not be true to curry origins, was a rather nice and easy dish to create on a cold soggy night. As an added bonus, there’s enough left over for another supper – that’s what I call a result. This could work with almost any vegetable and would be nice with the addition of spinach or cauliflower.
- Splash of oil – I used groundnut as I had it to hand
- 1 onion, diced
- 1 aubergine, diced
- A generous shake of curry spices. I cheated and used a ready mixed Tikka Masala tub. You could add whichever spices you wanted to be honest. I pondered over the Madras or Tandoori but went with Tikka Masala because it happened to be at the front. Lazy cooking at its finest.
- 2 tins tomatoes – you could get away with one if you wanted, just add water when it gets too thick
- 1 tin rinsed butter beans – I meant to add chickpeas, but for some unknown reason the cupboard was bare
- A handful of chopped coriander
- Dollop of yogurt or crème fraiche to serve
Soften the onion in the oil, and then add the aubergine and cook until lightly browned. Add in the curry spices and after a minute, all the other wet ingredients. Allow to cook down for about 20-25 minutes, adding a bit of water if it gets too thick. Check for spices, adding more if you wish. Five minutes before serving add half the coriander, saving the rest for sprinkling over the dollop of yogurt or creme fraiche when you’re dishing up.
Job done. Perfect for a simple supper, as my mother would say.