Sometimes you can practise Christmas Dinner for months on end, write all manner of features about it and spend weeks discussing with your mates how best to roast potatoes, but when you finally get in the car home, your fam want a curry. Thus is life. If I get to cook vegan food all day, there's not much to complain about really.
So I txted and tweeted two of my friends that I can talk about curry with for hours- Rupa and Guj, and got some great tips and recipes from them. And while I'll be looking forward to returning to our normal scheduled programme next year, I thought these recipes could fit in really well for other vegan and vegetarian meal ideas between Christmas and New Year.
The curries I chose were a kinda spruced-up version of what I'd cook on weeknights. I had to use what we could get ahold of in York, so that means any plans for pani puri and crazy spice blends were out the window. But I was reaaaallly pleased with how this feast came together (helped along by my brother making us all manner of drinks *all* day). I'm gonna break it down below, in case anyone wants to do something similar (or gets thrown the same curve ball in the coming days).
What we made: Vegan butter chicken, pea koftas in curry sauce, spinach dal, brown rice with pilau seasoning, chana masala, then dry-gilled vegetables with parsley by my Dad, Arabic salad by my brother, pomegranate, mint and cucumber raita. Plus amazing starters by Rita- including stuffed peppers, onion bahjis and a pineapple and mango salsa from an Ainsley Herriot recipe she found. Thank you Rita, the starters were amazing!
Happy Christmas and Boxing Day everyone, I hope you had a great day or at least a few hours away from it all to chill a bit.
Vegan butter chicken
I wanted to make something that would be a change from lentils and chickpeas (quelle horreur!) and I *love* that almondy, thick coconut taste you get with butter chicken. I couldn't find any pieces of vegan chicken in my local Holland & Barrett, so instead grilled vegan chicken strips, then poured the butter chicken sauce over right before serving. You could just as easily make this with some firm, drained tofu, or use firm tofu pieces, but there really is no need to marinade the fake meat- this is super tasty just made on the day.
Serves four or five as part of a large meal
2 tbsp vegan margarine
2 white onions, chopped down small
4 cloves garlic, chopped small
3 tbsp freshly grated ginger- leave the skin on, it's where all the flavour is
1 tsp cumin seeds
1 tsp cinnamon
2 medium tomatoes, diced
2 red chillies, chopped small
Salt and pepper
1 1/2 cups of vegan yoghurt (soy can work here as the dish is quite sweet)
2 tbsp lemon juice
1 1/2 tsp turmeric
2 tbsp garam masala
2 tsp ground cumin
1 cup vegetable stock
1 1/2 cups of vegan cream, plus a little for serving if you like
1 1/2 tsp tomato paste
3 tbsp ground almonds
3 tbsp desiccated coconut
1 pack of Fry's chicken strips / pieces of Cauldron tofu /smoked tofu / other chicken replacements- buy enough for four people
Slices of lemon or lime and coriander leaves for serving
Heat the margarine in a large, wide frying pan or wok. Add in the onions and sweat until translucent. Then add the garlic, ginger and cumin seeds and cook until the onions are just turning brown.
Add the cinnamon, tomatoes, chilli and some seasoning, then the chillies, and cook for another 10 minutes until everything has softened down.
While that's happening, blend or whisk together the yoghurt, lemon juice, turmeric, garam masala and cumin seeds, and then pour into the onion pan, along with the vegetable stock. Bring the mixture to the boil, then turn down the heat so it is just simmering. If you want to cook tofu or vegan chicken pieces in the sauce, I'd add them in now. Cook like this for 30 minutes, stir at the edges and bottom of the pan so the mixture doesn't burn- but stickier bits will just make this tastier.
Now add in the cream and tomato paste, and leave it for another 10 minutes. If you're grilling vegan chicken pieces, put them in the oven now.
Finally sprinkle in the almonds and coconut and stir through. Check for seasoning- you may want to add a bit more lemon juice. Serve by arranging a dish of the chicken pieces and then pouring the sauce over the top, with a drizzle of soy cream and some chopped coriander and lemon wedges, or if you've combined the fake meat already, use a deeper dish and just top with the soy cream, coriander and lemon wedges.
Pea koftas in rich tomato sauce
These are so tasty. My good friend Guj's Mum has made me some of the best curry I've ever tried, so when I found out we needed a few extra-spesh curry recipes, I asked Guj if there were any she could think of- her Mum sent me a huge list of recipes- I wish I could have worked from them all! But I especially wanted to try these pea koftas because none of my family have had them before and again, something different from lots of similar curries. It might feel like a faff also making the sauce but it really brings the koftas to life- they soak up the tomato flavours and get to cook again. Thank you so much to the Panesar family for your help with our Christmas dinner!!
Makes enough for five people to have plenty as part of a larger meal
For the koftas:
2 cups of peas
2 tsp cumin
1 good pinch of salt
1 tbsp grated ginger
2 tsp garam masala
1/2 cup of chickpea flour- you may need a little more depending on how the mixture turns out
1 tbsp sunflower oil - plus more for frying
For the curry sauce:
2 white onions, chopped small
1/2 tin chopped tomatoes
1 tsp grated ginger
2 chillies, chopped small
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp turmeric
1 tsp garam masala
To make the koftas, blend all the ingredients in a food processor, or mash them together in a large bowl.
Roll into golf-size balls- it's a sticky mixture but if you leave them on a plastic chopping board they should be fine- don't be tempted to add too much chickpea flour as it will make it bitter and you'll miss the taste of the peas. Fry in about 1/2 cm of oil in a large pan on medium heat for 4-5 minutes. I tend to fry on three sides when cooking anything round- and make sure nothing goes too dark and gets burnt.
Drain off the excess oil from the koftas by leaving them on a plate with kitchen roll to soak it up.
Keep hold of the pan, as you can use the remaining oil to cook this sauce in.
To make the curry sauce, fry the onions and add the cumin- go slow so it takes about five minutes for the onions to brown. Add a few tbsp of water and cook for another few minutes. Stir in the chillies, ginger, salt, turmeric, and tomato and cook on a low heat for another 15 minutes, so it starts to reduce and goes really thick. Place the koftas back in the pan, cook for another five minutes or so, making sure they're covered in sauce, and then serve straight from the pan with chopped coriander.
I used a recipe I've worked on here, before, but added passata for extra tomato flavour, lime juice and coriander. Rupa sent me an amazing recipe for this from Felicity Cloake's column in the Guardian, but I was worried about following too many recipes from my laptop all day, which really slows me down, so I decided to wait until I'm back in London to cook it for myself.
Spinach dal / palak chana dal
Chana dal holds together really well, and I like when the chickpeas break down, but you need to soak them overnight and then cook for about an hour to really get the chickpeas soft. I added in a big of spinach right at the end of make it more colourful.
I had an amazing Indian take-away at my BFFs Liz's house at the start of the month that included chargrilled vegetables and I loved that it made the food a bit lighter, and you could choose which vegetables you added to the curry sauces, instead of a lot of different curries that kind of become the same. So my Dad covered a big pan in some spices and then roasted slices of the vegetables on a high heat, then added chopped parsley to them right before serving.
This was another way of making the food a little fresher and not as heavy- kind of an ode to those weird sandwich bags of sliced onions you get with a takeaway. My brother just shredded lettuce with chopped parsley, cucumber and wedges of lemon for us to add to our plates. A proper Arabic salad has loaaads more to it, but we ran out of time- I'll defo be pickling turnips in the next few weeks though!
Pomegranate, mint and cucumber raita
Chop up the cucumber and mint small, use the seeds of half a pomegranate, mix it all up with about half a tub of vegan yoghurt, season with a little salt and pepper and you're done.