Curried Out.

In 2014 (yes, it really was that long ago) Alan and I made a once-in-a-lifetime trip to India, travelling around Rajasthan and also calling in at the Taj Mahal and Delhi. It wasn’t “once in a lifetime” because it was expensive and luxurious with palatial suites in grand hotels and gourmet food coated in edible gold leaf (it wasn’t any of these things) but rather because we’re never going back. Like, never. Ask me in 20 years if I’d like to go to southern India and I might, possibly, say “maybe” but as far as Alan is concerned visiting India once is quite enough.

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We’re both glad we went, but…..the smog, dirt and open sewers were pretty much as expected, but being hounded at every step by locals wanting a photo with us or touts selling fridge magnets all became a bit too much after a while. At the Taj Mahal we were harassed so much that a security guard intervened and told people to leave us alone. So much for peace, tranquility and romance!

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If you’re curious, you can read all about our travels in Tall Travel Tales – India. Delhi, Agra, Rajasthan and Rats, available in both paperback and e-book versions. Check out for details on where to buy it 🙂

Given that many moons have passed since our return (we’ve been to Jamaica, Germany, the Netherlands, the UK and made a return trip to Japan since then) why am I bringing it up now? Curries. That’s why. Curries, curries and more bleedin’ curries. If I see one more spiced lentil / bean / faux meat / tofu / tempeh / seitan / nut  / vegetable I’m likely to do someone an injury. It was all fine and dandy eating curries for breakfast, lunch, dinner and snacks while in India, but here in Canada I’ve become aware that sometimes Alan and I smell a bit too spicy for comfort. Fortunately I go swimming in a chlorinated pool most days so that helps to disguise the aroma of cumin being emitted by my pores.

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Why am I eating so many curries? Since returning from India I’ve been working, seemingly night and day, on my latest cookbook – HELP! There’s a VEGAN Coming for Dinner – Indian Style. Cooking, tasting, modifying, re-cooking, force-feeding taste-testers with, writing about and photographing curries. I offer my sincerest thanks to my taste-testers without whom I wouldn’t be where I am today.

And where am I? Done. That’s where I am. Done. Almost. Sort of. I’ve drop-boxed the book to my editor for a second time, and hopefully this time there will be more “I like this photo” comments and fewer “did you really add this amount?” “missing ingredient” and “perhaps you should explain what this is in the pantry-items section” comments. Oh….damn……I’ve just realised I forgot to put the page numbers on the contents page. That will earn me a sarcastic comment or two lol.

So, given that the book is off my desk for now at least, what are we having for dinner tonight? Well…..actually we’re having naan bread, tandoori faux chicken and fried spiced vegetable rice.

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I know, I know, but I wanted to do one final check of those recipes before hanging up my spice tin for a while. Besides, I’ve harvested a load of lettuce from my rabbit-proof cage and it will make a nice bed for the tandoori faux chicken. And tomorrow? I’m mulling over the idea of roasted tomato soup with red lentils and tarragon, fresh hot-from-the-oven bread with a marinated mushroom, garlic and parsley salad and fresh corn. I’m drooling on my keyboard. 🙂

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Scratch the parsley in the mushroom salad. I just popped out to the herb garden and the rascally rabbit has eaten it.

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Karen 🙂


India: Coconut Chutney Challenge

Coconut Chutney, New Delhi Hotel Style

The best coconut chutney I’ve ever had was in our hotel in New Delhi. Perhaps it was because I was jet-lagged, or perhaps I was just happy to have some “real” food after traveling for over 30 hours, but the coconut chutney I ate with my first breakfast in India made an impression on my taste buds. Upon my return to Canada I was determined to re-create it and, after a lot of trial and error, I think this is it! Plain and simple. White and delicious, even though I have to make it with desiccated coconut rather than the grated fresh coconuts found in Delhi.

To get the maximum level of enjoyment from this chutney I recommend that you go on a long journey involving 3 flights and 8 hours in Frankfurt airport, then cover yourself with a thin layer of dust, deeply inhale some smog, have a cold shower and eat this with freshly steamed idli or dosa.

  • 1 tbsp split, skinned urad dhal (it should look white, not black)
  • 1 ½ cups grated fresh or desiccated coconut
  • 1 tbsp coconut oil
  • 2 tsp grated fresh ginger
  • 3 garlic cloves, finely chopped
  • ½ tsp mustard seeds
  • ½ tsp salt
  • 1 – 1½ cups water, as needed

Preparation time: 5 minutes. Cooking time: 10 minutes. Makes about 1 cup. Best eaten on the day it’s prepared, but can be kept overnight in the fridge.

  1. Cook the urad dhal in a small frying pan over a medium-high heat for 2-3 minutes or until very lightly browned. Transfer to a small blender.
  2. Put the coconut oil in the pan over a medium heat and add the coconut, ginger, garlic, mustard seeds and salt. Stir for 1-2 minutes or until the coconut is warm and just a few pieces are slightly browned. Transfer to the blender.
  3. Add the water and process until well mixed but not completely smooth.

India: Bean there, done that!

Last year the hubby and I took a trip to India with a small adventure travel company, touring mainly around Rajasthan. We ate some meals in local homes, visited artist co-operatives and saw more palaces, forts and temples than you can imagine. In Jaipur we saw elephants being used to transport tourists up the long, steep, winding stone path leading to the Amber Fort. Our group made the journey on foot – and it was hard work – stopping from time to time to get our breath back under the pretense of admiring the view. Someone asked our guide why we were walking when there were elephants available. I really liked his answer. “Elephants are not supposed to walk on stones up to forts. These elephants are not treated well. They are worked hard and hit with a stick if they are too tired and want to stop. Our tour company does not support such cruelty”. Everyone agreed, and on we went, wiping the sweat off our brows with our Indian shawls.

amber (Copy)Two days later we found ourselves in a camp not far from the border with Pakistan. Every now and again fighter jets flew over, shattering the otherwise total stillness of the desert. We rested for a while on our camp beds, sweating in the afternoon heat, then headed out to meet our guides for a camel safari out into the desert. With thoughts of the Jaipur elephants in my head, I wasn’t sure what to expect. The camels, all chewing in what appeared to be a contented manner, were lined up waiting for us. They looked strong and healthy, obviously well cared for and well fed. Our guides ranged from small boys to wizened old men, and they were among the few we met in India who didn’t speak much English. They’d spent their entire lives living in the desert plains, and now made a living catering to tourists. I know that some people will frown deeply and cry “animal exploitation!” at this point, but I climbed on a camel and headed off into the desert to watch the sun set over the dunes. We journeyed for about half an hour before stopping somewhere in the dunes and dismounted. The camels sat down and relaxed while our guides  lounged around and chatted amongst themselves. Our group held an impromptu sand-dune race while waiting for the sun to set, with one representative from each of our countries – India, England, Northern Ireland, Australia and New Zealand. We all expected our local rep to win, but our police lady from Australia beat them all. We then settled on the sand, occasionally moving to get out of the way of dung beetles, and watched the sun sink over the desert landscape. It was a truly magical experience.

camels (Copy)Our evening meal in the desert camp was the usual fare of breads, yellow dhal, and an assortment of meat or dairy dishes which I couldn’t or wouldn’t eat. There was an additional dish of something which looked like twigs in a spicy sauce. I asked our guide if it was something I could eat. “Yes”, he said. “It’s desert beans” so, after getting confirmation that it was dairy-free, I took a sizable helping. I thought it would be a pleasant relief to eat something other than yellow dhal or eggplants, but as I sat there chewing on the twig-like beans in a focused manner I realised how wrong I had been.

Since getting home, I’ve played with green beans of the Canadian variety and served them alongside chick pea or lentil curries, and nobody has asked me if I accidentally cooked some twigs I found buried in the snow. The flavour takes me back to the deserts of India and makes me smile.

Rajasthan Desert Beans

If you don’t use refined oils, cook the spices briefly in 2 tbsp of boiling water instead of the coconut oil, stirring constantly so they don’t stick and burn.

  • 2 tbsp oil (I like to use coconut oil)
  • 2 pinches asafoetida (hing)
  • 2 tsp cumin seeds
  • 1 tsp garam masala
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp ground coriander
  • 1/4  tsp mango powder (amchoor)
  • 1/4 tsp turmeric
  • 1/2 tsp crushed dried red chillies, or to taste
  • 4 cups green beans, trimmed
  • 1/4 cup fresh coriander
  • 1/4 cup raisins
  • 1 cup water

Heat the oil in a frying pan or wok. Add the hing and stir round then add the cumin seeds, garam masala, salt, coriander, mango powder, turmeric and chillies. Fry briefly then stir in the green beans, fresh coriander and raisins. Mix well. Pour in the water, bring to a boil, reduce the heat and simmer uncovered for 5 – 10 minutes, depending on how soft you like your beans. Serve hot.

If you want a more authentic experience, scour your local Indian grocery store for dried desert beans. Soak them in water for 8 – 10 hours then drain and rinse well. Boil in plenty of water for 2 minutes then drain before using in the recipe.They will be twig-like.

DesertBeans (Copy)After eating this dish, retreat to your tent under the stars and lie on your camp bed dreaming of your adventures. Get up well before dawn, eat a hearty breakfast of dhal and rotis then head off on the next step of your journey, pausing to watch the sun rise over the desert. And maybe pray that the next place you stop at, unlike all the previous hotels and camps, has both a shower and hot water.

Karen 🙂

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Salad Samurai? Not Me …

I’ve been a plant eater for many, many years, but I’ve never had a very good relationship with salads. Perhaps it’s the fault of the servers in restaurants, who when asked if they have anything vegan simply shrug and say “I could bring you a salad…”, invariably returning with a bowl of iceberg lettuce, a few halved cherry tomatoes and a disheveled slice of cucumber. Groan. I hate the very thought of a restaurant-vegan-salad. I’ve suspected for a long time that my prejudice against all things salady is (probably) unreasonable, so for Christmas I requested a copy of “Salad Samurai” by Terry Hope Romero. She claims that I can become a salad samurai, master of my salad making domain. I sat down with a nice hot cup of tea and a cat or two and read the book, looking carefully at the recipes and scowling every time the word “salad” appeared. They’re “main dish” salads which can be eaten for dinner – or, as a salad hater would say instead of dinner. Most of the recipes have a fair number of ingredients, a lot of prep work and many have recipes within recipes. If I’m using numerous ingredients and putting in notable effort, I want something more than a salad in my bowl at the end of it! Romero gives tips on how to prepare some things beforehand, and how to use some dressings and salad toppings interchangeably within recipes, but this requires planning ahead. If you’re a salad lover, buy the book – I’m sure you’ll enjoy her recipes. Be a salad samurai! But if you’re not a salad fan it’s probably not the book for you.

Popcorn is still wondering if perhaps he could be a Salad Samurai. Sparta, however, would rather eat a boot than a raw vegetable.

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I’m more of a salad sumo. I’m happy to do a stomp or two in a small space, make some threatening gestures towards my vegetable opponents, then one quick shove and I’m bowled over. If I’m going to make a salad to have with my dinner, it has to take very little effort on my part and it all has to be over very quickly.

I served this savory fruit salad with a chick pea curry (yes, I’m stepping away from the Japanese theme here!!), mainly because I didn’t have any veggies on hand to add to the curry itself. Imagine the horror when I opened the fridge and saw… spinach! No kale! No dandelions! (Although the lack of dandelion leaves shouldn’t really come as a surprise to anyone.) Quick – improvise! Time for the salad sumo to get to work.

Spiced Fruit Salad

  • 1 – 2 apples, washed and cut into small pieces (peeled if they’re not organic)
  • 1 cup matchstick carrots (it will take longer if you have to peel and cut a carrot yourself)
  • ½ English cucumber, thinly sliced
  • 1 mango (ideally ripe, but still on the firm side), peeled and cut into small pieces
  • 1 orange, peeled and cut into small pieces
  • 2 tsp lemon juice
  • 2 tsp orange (or use an extra tsp of lemon juice)
  • 1 tsp ground cumin
  • ½ tsp mango powder (amchoor)
  • ½ tsp ground black pepper
  • ½ tsp salt, or to taste
  • ¼ cup fresh coriander, chopped

Mix everything together, cover and chill for 30 minutes.

SpicedFruitSalad (Copy)Now that’s my idea of a sumo salad! Quick and easy, no fancy dressing, no wilted lettuce, and no pre-prepped toppings. And you can eat as much as you want without feeling guilty. As the sumo wrestler Gagamaru once said: “I’m on a diet, so I had only five extra helpings.” I just hope that Alan won’t feel like he has to change into a mawashi (sumo loin cloth) to eat  his salad……..

Karen 🙂

FOK 27: CAshEW eh?

I was born in England, but I live in the beautiful yet wintery land of Canada. It’s like Narnia up here, apart from the fact that it’s always winter, and then we have Christmas, and then it continues to be winter. For months. And months. Even if the groundhog says it will be a short winter, it never is. But that’s not actually the topic of my blog today – I want to talk about cashews. Despite living up here in the frozen north for over 20 years, I still get mocked for the way I pronounce “cashew”. It doesn’t matter if I say casHEW or CAshew, or even cashew, I always get mocked. I used to think it was because of my British accent, but now I think it’s because I’m totally confused and have no real idea how to pronounce the word. I don’t get mocked for my renditions of tomAYto or bAYsil, but those nuts get me every time. I’ve lost track of the number of times people have laughed and said “bless you”, as if I’m sneezing. Canadians can be so mean lol.

iceLeaf (Copy) The good news is that if I serve this curry to the locals they’re usually too busy saying “nom nom nom” to poke fun at me. The other good news is that this can be on the table in under 30 minutes – a real bonus when you have somewhere to go after dinner.

Kale and Cashew Curry

Note: For a refined oil-free version, replace the coconut oil with water or stock, adding more as needed to stop the onions from sticking. Stir frequently.

  • 2 tbsp coconut oil (see note)
  • 1 medium onion, thinly sliced
  • 3 garlic cloves, crushed
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • 2 cloves
  • 4 green cardamom pods, lightly crushed
  • 5 curry leaves
  • 1 tbsp ground coriander
  • 1 tsp cumin
  • 1 tsp chilli powder
  • ½ tsp turmeric
  • 2 cups raw cashew nuts
  • 2 cups / 1 can coconut milk
  • 1 tsp salt, or to taste
  • 1 large bunch of kale, thick ribs removed, finely chopped

Heat the oil in a medium pan and fry the onion over a medium-high heat for about 10 minutes or until deeply golden brown – but not burnt. Stir in the garlic, cinnamon stick, cloves, cardamoms, curry leaves, coriander, cumin and turmeric. Cook over a medium heat for 2 minutes then stir in the nuts. Continue to cook, stirring frequently, for 5 min. Add the coconut milk and salt. Bring to a boil then reduce the heat, cover and simmer gently for 10 minutes. Stir in the kale, cover and cook gently for 5 minutes or until the kale is wilted.

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You can vary the richness of this dish by using either full fat or lower fat coconut milk. I like to use milk which has 13g of fat per 4 tablespoons, creating a thick, creamy sauce. I like to add kale to this dish, but feel free to use spinach or others greens if you prefer. Or even dandelion leaves, if you’re feeling adventurous. Unless a rabbit ate them.

Karen 🙂

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FOK 23: A Quick Dip into Indian Food!

We had friends over for dinner on Saturday to help me taste-test recipes for my book of vegan Indian-style recipes. We had a fabulous time, despite the tablecloth taking a few curry hits. We served the dips with a variety of dishes (recipes will filter into the blogs from time to time) accompanied by gram flour chapattis. When we were in India Alan and I ate an incredible number of chapattis and roti, which might account for some of the weight we gained during our trip. We watched some being made by the sister-in-law of our host when we had dinner in a family home in Jaisalmer. She made them on the kitchen floor because there was no space anywhere else to prepare them.

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I’m very fortunate to have a fully functional kitchen, with more than 2 stove rings to cook meals on, but I can’t compete with the sheer efficiency of these ladies in India. They feed 14 family members most nights, often also opening their home to hungry tourists. I’ve sometimes found my kitchen to be a bit small, especially since we recently downsized, but I’ve not yet had to sit on the floor to prepare chapattis.

Chickpea Flour Rotis

The bread can either be cooked on a dry griddle or one brushed with oil. They can be topped with buttery vegan margarine before serving if you like that sort of thing.

  • 3 cups chickpea / gram flour
  • 1 ½ cups whole wheat flour
  • 2 tsp dried curry / fenugreek leaves, crumbled
  • 1 tsp fennel seeds
  • ½ tsp crushed dried red chillies
  • 1 tsp fresh mint, finely chopped
  • 2 tbsp coriander leaves, chopped
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 cup of water, more as needed
  • Flour for rolling
  • Oil for frying (optional)

Preparation time: 25 minutes. Cooking time: 2 minutes per roti, totaling around 20 minutes. Makes 10 – 12 roti.

Put the chick pea flour, wholewheat flour, curry leaves, fennel seeds, chillies, mint, coriander and salt in a large bowl and mix well. Stir in the water and add more as needed to make a soft dough. Cover and allow to rest for 10 minutes. With floured hands divide the dough into 10 – 12 balls. Roll each ball into a thin disc on a floured surface, kneading in a bit more flour if the dough is too sticky. Brush excess flour off the surface of each disc. Heat a griddle or heavy flat-bottomed frying pan and either brush with a little oil or place a roti into the dry pan. Cook over a medium-high heat for about 1 minute per side or until cooked with some brown spots. Scrape excess flour off the griddle before cooking the next roti. Your stove top is going to get messy, but it’s preferable to the smell of burning flour permeating your home. Serve hot with chutneys or curries.

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Coriander Chilli Chutney

I usually freeze half of this to use as a chutney at a later date or to mix into curries just before serving. Stir it well after thawing overnight in the fridge.

  • 1 cup (packed) fresh coriander leaves, washed
  • 1 large tomato, coarsely chopped
  • 1 medium onion, coarsely chopped
  • 4 jalapeno chillies
  • ½ tsp salt, or to taste
  • 1 tbsp fresh lemon juice, or more to taste

Makes about 2 cups.

Put the coriander, tomato, onion, chillies, salt and lemon juice in a blender and process until smooth, adding a drop of water if needed. Taste and add more salt if needed.

corianderRelish (Copy)Tomato Chutney

Use any left-overs as a replacement for fresh tomatoes if you make a curry later in the week.

  • 8 medium tomatoes, roughly chopped
  • 10 garlic cloves, roughly chopped
  • 1 tsp mustard seeds
  • 1 tsp cumin seeds
  • ¼ cup coriander leaves
  • ¼ tsp dried red crushed chillies
  • 1 tsp paprika
  • 2 tsp sugar

Makes about 5 cups.

Put the tomatoes, garlic, mustard seeds and cumin seeds in a large frying pan or wok. Simmer gently over a medium heat for 15 – 30 minutes, depending on how watery your tomatoes are, until the they turned into a thick paste. Stir in the coriander leaves, chillies, paprika, sugar and salt and mix well. Allow to cool before serving.

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Karen 🙂

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