Sicilian tuna pasta with wild garlic

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I’ve called this Sicilian tuna pasta, as although it uses a mix of my Cotswold store-cupboard basics and woodland greens, it reminds me of the sort of pasta dish enlivened with Arabic spices that Sicilians are so good at.

Sicilian fish and pasta dishes always transport me to the lovely holiday we had between the laid-back Sicilian island of Salina and the Baroque faded grandeur of southern Sicily when I was 5 months pregnant with Ruby. The simple dishes we ate, flavoured with freshly picked lemons, local herbs and wonderful ingredients from the sea were particularly enjoyed as I was so happy to be in the middle of my pregnancy, and loving the attention my bump attracted from exuberant, Italian mamas.

Back down to earth, this dish is very handy during a rainy half term week when I’m happier playing with my now 5 year old daughter and her friends and cousins and cooking for them than fitting in a shopping trip. All of the ingredients come from the store cupboard except basil which is now growing well on the windowsill and wild garlic which is thriving for a little longer in the woods and hedgerows.

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Serves 6

1 onion, peeled and finely chopped

1 red chilli, deseeded and finely chopped

1 level teaspoon ground cinnamon

A bunch of basil leaves

2 400g tins plum tomatoes

2 x 200g tins tuna (sustainably sourced, pole & line caught) in olive oil

500g dried pasta of your choice

juice of 1 lemon

1 handful wild garlic leaves (chopped) and a few flowers

extra-virgin olive oil

Heat the drained oil from one of the tuna cans in a pan and cook the onion, chilli and cinnamon on a medium heat for 10 mins until the onion is softened and slightly sweet. Add the tomatoes, tuna (all drained) and a pinch of salt. Simmer for about 20 mins, taste for seasoning and break tomatoes up with a spoon. Cook the pasta according to packet instructions and drain, reserving some of the cooking water.

Toss the pasta into the sauce with the basil (roughly torn), wild garlic leaves and the lemon juice, drizzle with a little extra-virgin olive oil, loosen with a little of the reserved cooking water if needed, check seasoning and serve with the wild garlic flowers scattered over.

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I’m sure the wild garlic is a very inauthentic touch if I’m associating this easy supper dish with Sicilian food. Having loved the imaginative culinary use of wild herbs in Sicily though, I like to think that if a Sicilian were visiting the Cotswolds in the very lush month of May, they wouldn’t be able to resist adding this fragrant freebie.

May in my kitchen

I started May spending as much time as possible outside the kitchen. The very welcome sunshine prompted the garden to burst into life, while I couldn’t resist spending any spare time outside planting. Simple food was needed.

Luckily so much of the seasonal food in May is completely delicious with little or no cooking.  Tender little purple sprouting broccoli florets are delicious picked and munched raw in the garden.

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 Or cooked very briefly and tossed with some chilli oil on bruschetta. I love freshly picked asparagus al dente too, whether dipped in goose eggs or tossed with olive oil and sea salt and quickly roasted or griddled.

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Rhubarb and primroses have featured heavily too this month. I’m not the only one who’s been loving getting out in the garden. Ruby and friends have been very enthusiastic about picking primroses. So I decided I’d better make use of the ones that hadn’t made it into the bowls of ‘perfume’ to be found lurking in lots of hidden corners. There have been lots of primrose ice cubes, pretty in rhubarb cordial until the borage starts flowering. Liz Knight has inspired me with her primrose curd, great in primrose muffins. And Fi Bird, Mum of 6 and inspirational Hebridean forager/seaweed eater who has written The Forager’s Kitchen has some great ideas for edible flowers too.

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The May view from the kitchen window reminds me that this also seems to have been a month of making the most of all those fresh green shoots, mixing the cultivated and wild. From my side window everything is so lush; there are the acid greens of marjoram, variegated lemon balm and the slightly deeper greens of the lovage and angelica. Pretty cream sweet cicely flowers are in the foreground, very similar to the creamy umbels of cow parsley now rampant in the meadow behind. Nettles and ground elder are trying to sneak in from the meadow.

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So my tactic has been to either top up the compost with nettles (only the ones that aren’t flowering or setting seed) or to eat them. Mixed with the perpetual spinach, beetroot and chard leaves that are having a new lease of life before new plants take over, I’ve been using them in wild greens pies or as a stuffing for cannelloni. I’d like to try Louisa at Chez Foti’s Forager’s Nettle and Wild Garlic risotto too.

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Wild Garlic from nearby woods and purple sprouting from the garden have come together lots in recipes this month, including in my wild garlic egg-fried rice.

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My frittata with wild garlic and PSB is packed full of nutritious greens and is very quick to make. I made it after I’d been tempted to stay out gardening one evening longer than planned and it was just the sort of easy supper that I needed – tasty in a very savoury way, perfect with the glass of red wine I thought I deserved after my hard work, yet virtuously healthy. As it includes wild greens/weeds, it’s also a great way to wreak vengeance on those pesky perennial weeds after gardening!

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 Wild garlic and Purple Sprouting Broccoli Frittata

1 handful of wild garlic leaves, washed and roughly chopped.

2 handfuls purple sprouting broccoli

2 handfuls wild/cultivated greens such as spinach, chard, nettles, sorrel, beetroot tops washed well and roughly chopped

2 tablespoons olive oil

6 eggs, mixed with a fork and seasoned with salt and pepper

150g Grana Padano or Parmesan cheese, grated

Heat 1 tablespoon of the oil in a frying pan over a medium/high heat and toss the purple sprouting broccoli (if you are using freshly picked, tender PSB from the garden it will only need cooking briefly) before adding the greens and stirring until wilted.

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Add the wild garlic leaves, stir then add the contents of the pan to the eggs and cheese in a bowl and mix while you heat the remaining olive oil in the pan. Add the eggs and green mixture back to the pan and immediately turn the heat to low. Cook for about 10 mins until most of the frittata is set and just the top is still runny. Meanwhile heat the grill and pop the frittata under the grill for a few minutes until the top is set/golden.

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You can of course turn the frittata in the pan to cook on the remaining side, but I took the easy/cowardly option!

We enjoyed this with a rocket and tomato salad, partly as last year’s rocket is also enjoying a new lease of life. I can definitely recommend a glass of wine alongside.

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Any leftovers are great cold for lunch the next day too.

As this is a very simple way of making use of seasonal ingredients from the garden and hedgerows, I’d like to enter my Wild Garlic and PSB Frittata into Ren Behan’s Simple and in Season blog event.

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I’d also like to add it to Celia of Fig Jam and lime cordial’s In My Kitchen, which is a lovely place to gain inspiration from other kitchens around the world.

But I can’t finish a post about May in my kitchen without a mention of the windowsill. Very much a big focus of my kitchen this month, it’s been home to a succession of seedlings before they’re transferred to the coldframe for hardening off. Borlotti beas have germinated in loo roll tubes and purple leaved Kohl rabi have germinated in little newspaper pots (following Sarah of the Garden Deli’s great instructions to make your own posh paper pots). I’m currently exciting at the appearance of tiny great shoots of perilla. Mark Diacono of Otter Farm inspired me to grow this interesting culinary herb by describing it in a great article on herb growing as “the earthy but bright child of mint and cumin parents.” Already imagining handfuls of it rolled in flatbread with feta and salad, how could I resist?!

rhubarb and rose jam

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At the beginning of May, I definitely wouldn’t have considered making jam. All that sunshine made me want to spend any spare moments outside. Planting fruit, not cooking it in the kitchen.

Now everything is so lush, the rhubarb is really flourishing and I can see sweet cicely with its pretty cream flowers from the kitchen table.

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But it’s very cold and rainy. So instead of dusk gardening, evening jam making beckons.

Popping out to the garden to gather fruit and herbs, an abundance of mud and cooking are a dangerous combination I find. Once I’m outside there are always a few bits and pieces that I notice need attention and I’m easily distracted. But I’d planned to cook and hadn’t exactly dressed for gardening.

One evening there was a cold-frame avalanche. Shoddy placing of the top shelf (by me of course) meant that it suddenly collapsed. Of course it was crammed full of pots of seedlings, which all landed on top of the poor courgettes and Mother Hubbard squash plants sitting below. I’d only popped out for a minute of watering the pots inside. An hour later, I arrived back in the kitchen, having re-potted as many undamaged plants as possible. Thankfully there weren’t too many plant casualties, just very muddy arms for me.

Looking back at pictures of Ruby gardening, I think she may take after her Mum in her insistence that there’s no need to change, one outfit suits everything:

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This was taken after a Jubilee street party last year (you may spot the face-painting) – we’d returned home and were checking the potatoes! Ruby’s pretty dress soon became very muddy.  I don’t exactly have an extensive wardrobe but I do like to wear and enjoy my favourite clothes too. Skirts and dresses are happily intermingled with my scruffy jeans. Often worn with these of course:

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So after my very lovely girly excursion to the village hall vintage tea party, I may have been tempted to browse these (totally out of my price range!) Brora Liberty Print and  tea dresses. But even if I had cash to spare, I know I’d end up cooking in them, pop out to pick a few herbs and water the cold frame a little before turning the compost heap.

Perhaps these great Howies organic t-shirts (I love the fact that they’re called ‘Go Wild’ and in violet) may be more practical. And I’ll have a feminine fix from these very pink drinks and preserves.

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The gloriously pink bottles are rhubarb cordial, made from the Jamie Oliver recipe here. It’s a very refreshing (and pretty!) drink diluted with sparkling water or just tap water. And I think it’ll make a fabulously summery drink added to Prosecco once we have warm evenings again.

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The rhubarb and rose jam (I know, at last I’ve got to the point!) is adapted from Diana Henry’s Salt, Sugar, Smoke. Rhubarb, rose and cardamom jam is one of the many jewel-coloured inspiring preserve recipes in this very lovely book.  I will make the original recipe too very soon. But much as I love cardamom, I thought Ruby (who I’m hoping will like this fragrant pink jam with stove-top rice pudding and porridge) would prefer a version without. And besides, this is the first year I’ve had Sweet Cicely thriving in the garden. I’ve read so much about how brilliant it is paired with rhubarb and wanted to try a rhubarb/sweet cicely combination.

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 I made this jam twice – first, using jam sugar with added pectin as in Diana Henry’s version. This produced a jam that set easily, but I wanted a runnier jam, so tried it made just with granulated sugar. I prefer this version, and will even try it again with less sugar – especially as Sweet Cicely is well known as a herb which reduces the acidity of tart fruit. It wouldn’t last as long and would need to be kept in the fridge, but as I have so many uses in mind, including scones, Victoria Sandwich cakes with mascarpone and just spread on good toasted sourdough, I don’t think that will be a problem.

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Rhubarb and rose jam with sweet cicely

1 kg rhubarb (untrimmed weight)

900g granulated sugar

juice of 1 lemon

a few sweet cicely leaves

100ml apple juice

1 dessert spoon rose water

Trim and wash the rhubarb, cutting into short lengths. Toss with the sugar in a preserving pan and pour over the lemon juice and apple juice. Cover and leave overnight, or at least for a few hours to draw out the juices from the rhubarb.

Add the sweet cicely to the rhubarb. Slowly bring the contents of the pan to the boil so that the sugar dissolves, then boil rapidly until you reach setting point. I found this only took a few minutes, but then I’m prepared to have runny jam dribbling over the sides of my scones.

Remove from the heat, remove the sweet cicely and add the rose water. Return to heat and bring to boil again quickly. Remove from heat, tasting and adding a little more lemon juice or rose water (although remember you’re after a lovely fragrant jam, not creating perfume) to taste. Put in warm, sterilized jars and seal.

If it lasts that long, it’ll be lovely when the roses are blooming to decorate little bowls of rice pud or cakes that include this preserve, with petals. In the meantime, I’ll make do with violets.

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This is a sponsored post, but as usual all rambling opinions are my own.

 

 

 

vintage bakes, recycling and primrose curd muffins

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Perhaps to some the words vintage and bakes aren’t ideal partners, bringing to mind images of stale rock cakes rather than the tempting teatime treats on pretty floral china I have in mind.

But a recent village hall fundraiser with a vintage tea party theme has inspired me. Copious amounts of pretty bunting, ladies dressed in forties style frocks and tea dance music playing in the background created such a lovely feel-good atmosphere. Not to mention  trestle tables laden with a wonderful selection of home-made cakes. Rosemary madeira cake, mini bakewell tarts decorated with pale blue flowers, cake stands heaped with cupcakes and millionaires shortbread were all so beautifully presented.

Having enjoyed the lovely vintage vibe of this tea party, I’ve been keen to savour it a little longer. Yet while sitting around like a lady in a pretty frock all day sipping Darjeeling may occasionally be appealing, it isn’t likely to happen in this house. Fitting in a bit of vintage recycling and baking seems a little more practical.

Ruby has been given a lovely little girls tweed jacket that was found in a friend’s attic. It’s missing buttons and my daughter has suggested bright pink. I’m thinking “why not” if it means it’ll be enjoyed and worn again. Even better, Grandma and Granny have both offered us a choice from their button tins.

Our current run of rainy days means that sorting out our cupboards (not normally high on my list of priorities!) seems a good thing to do. We have had lots of moths in the house too, so I need to have a clear and a clean and make more lavender bags. I often take old clothes to charity shops or sell them on ebay rather than letting them end up in a landfill, but musicmagpie  seems like a good option too for recycling clothes as well as old cds, dvds etc. They give you a valuation of items online, arrange for free courier collection or you can post for free. Payment is then made by bank transfer, cheque, e-vouchers or you can choose for the money to be donated to your choice of charity. It could be a good source of fundraising for schools too.

Unsurprisingly, pottering around in the kitchen baking is a much more appealing activity to me than clearing and cleaning! So, feeling smug from all that Spring cleaning, this is the sort of wholesome baking that I think fits perfectly with the vintage vibe as well as making good use of the lush, May countryside.

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 Primrose Curd Muffins

Ingredients:

Primrose curd from Liz Knight’s lovely recipe here.

120g plain white organic flour

100g spelt flour or other wholemeal flour (flour from heritage varieties of wheat gives a lovely flavour and wholesome feel)

2 teaspoons baking powder

100g caster sugar

1 free-range egg

125g plain yoghurt

125ml milk

75g butter, melted and slightly cooled (I put it in a dish in the oven while it’s warming up – but don’t forget it’s there!)

Directions
1. Put 10 large paper cases into a muffin tray. Put  the flour, baking powder and caster sugar in a large bowl and whisk lightly to combine.2. Mix the egg, yoghurt, milk and melted butter  together in a jug. Pour them into the dry ingredients and mix lightly,  stopping as soon as everything is combined. This is very rough and ready mixing – perfect if children are helping. Or for rustic, imperfect bakers such as myself.

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3. Divide half the mixture between the muffin cases  and top with a teaspoonful of primrose curd. Add a final  spoonful of muffin mixture to encase the curd and three-quarters  fill the cases.

4. Bake in an oven preheated to 180°C/gas mark 4  for about 30 minutes until golden brown. Transfer to a wire rack to  cool. They’re lovely to eat with a cup of tea (in a vintage china cup of course!) while still warm though. You can also have fun decorating these cakes with pale yellow primrose flowers.

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I’ve adapted the River Cottage recipe for Lemon Curd muffins here. If you’re in a slightly less wholesome mood and want lighter muffins, you can follow the original recipe more closely and use 220g white flour instead of the mixture I’ve used above.

For those who make the primrose curd, it’s great with meringues and thick cream too and I can also recommend spooning some into greek yoghurt. A classic Victoria sponge cake with primrose curd in the middle, dusted with icing sugar and decorated with primroses is also on my baking list. I have lots of mismatched pretty plates and saucers to serve on, bought (very luckily) from a garage/barn sale a couple of years ago for 10p each. Now I just need the retro floral pinny!

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This post was sponsored by musicmagpie.co.uk. All of the rambling opinions are my own!

 

 

 

wild garlic egg-fried rice

I’d planned to make egg-fried rice with purple sprouting broccoli, but an impromptu walk in the garlic woods with friends led to a fragrant addition to our supper.

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This picture was taken in May last year and the garlic isn’t flowering quite as profusely yet. But there were lots of garlicky greens to gather as we walked down into the woods and nearer to the stream, Ruby found that the garlic flowers were just beginning to open. Her 2 year old friend gathered garlic leaves just as enthusiastically as us, before sitting down to happily remove her wellies and socks so that her leggings and feet could become more closely acquainted with the mud. We all had lots of fun.

Back home in the kitchen, I was as excited as ever to have a bag crammed full of nutritious and free greens. My friend Heidi used her wild garlic leaves in a lovely Moroccan inspired soup with chickpeas, saffron and tomatoes. But I was still in the mood for a Saturday night Chinese supper. Not authentically Chinese at all, I have to point out, but the sort of fragrant yet wholesome food I felt like.

As Ruby had been involved in gathering the ingredients, she tucked in to her supper packed with greens with enthusiasm. Not something that always happens in this kitchen.

It made use of our current Purple Sprouting Broccoli garden glut as well as the wilder glut in the woods and was very simple to cook. Ideal for a May day when we’d made the most of the sunnier parts of the day outside between showers.

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Wild garlic egg-fried rice

For 4 average appetites or 3 very hungry people

250 g brown rice

3 free-range eggs

2 tablespoons rapeseed oil

2-3 teaspoons soy sauce (I use the Clearspring organic variety)

3 handfuls wild garlic leaves, chopped

1 handful wild garlic flowers

2 handfuls purple sprouting broccoli

Break the eggs into a bowl and mix with a fork. Heat a small amount of the oil in a large wok and stir-fry the broccoli briefly. Remove and reserve on a plate. Heat the remaining oil and stir-fry the rice. Add the soy sauce and wild garlic leaves, stirring – the heat of the wok will wilt the wild greens nicely. Add the broccoli, stir and push the rice mixture to one side of the wok. Quickly cook the eggs in a sort of omelette in the wok, then slice into thin shreds with your spatula or chop sticks and mix with the rice. Heap into bowls, scattering a few wild garlic flowers on top.

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If you want to make this dish more authentically Chinese you can of course use white rice and vary the oil. I’d normally add spring onions or Egyptian walking onions from the garden at the beginning of egg fried rice, but this time the wild garlic seemed to add plenty of that fresh allium flavour. Later in the summer I’ll probably make it with peas picked from the garden instead of the PSB and wild garlic.

We ate it with some spare ribs that I’d marinated and cooked in the oven, but this would make a good vegetarian dish on its own.

As it combines a seasonal garden glut with lots of wildly seasonal food, I’m entering it in the lovely Ren Behan’s Simple and in Season for May.

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The Urban Rajah’s Curry Memoirs – book review

In chilly weather, curry is often exactly the sort of comfort food I need. Yet the fabulously sunny bank holiday weekend we’ve just enjoyed had me craving some heat in my food too. So this book of fabulous curry recipes, with lots of wonderfully spiced dished that are simple to prepare, was very welcome.

Dishes such as Kachumbar, a refreshing looking Asian version of salsa, looks like perfect summery food:

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The energising Dudh Badam (Almond Milkshake) made by the Urban Rajah’s grandmother to “breathe life into my father’s nutrition-starved body on his return from his Catholic boarding school,” looks perfect for sunny weather too.

And I’m looking forward to making the Cricket Chicken, where frugal chicken thighs or drumsticks (I’ll use the very flavoursome ones from Great Farm in the Cotswold’s very free-ranging birds) add taste and nutrition to a spiced stock that you then cook basmati rice in, before reuniting the succulent chicken pieces with fragrant rice.

There are some beautifully spiced versions of familiar classics that I’m keen to try too, such as Aloo Ghobi, Comfort Daal and Mama Peters’ Jhalfrezi.

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But thanks to the self-styled Urban Rajah’s (aka Ivor Peters) wordsmithery and entertaining storytelling ability, lots of gorgeous pictures ranging from family snaps to street food in Karachi and descriptions of food ranging from wedding feasts to Bazaar snacks, this is far from just a cookbook. It’s the sort of lovely book that’s perfect for reading in bed or in the bath. But be warned, it’ll transport you to colourful Indian streets where chefs with manicured silver moustaches conjure up earthy meals with notes of musk and bursts of fresh chilli and ginger. You’ll be ransacking your cupboards for spices in the morning.

Ivor Peters grew up in 1970s Britain and so his memories of falling in love with curry as a young boy in Slough mingle with ones of hot summers, street cricket, fishfingers and a pair of orange curtains. His Curry Memoirs offer great recipes for home-cooked spiced food that are influenced by the East and married with Western cuisine. These are introduced to us through fascinating, often amusing stories that have obviously been as lovingly passed through the generations as some of the recipes.

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The Urban Rajah had a spell as a pirate radio DJ, is a food writer with a great blog full of travel, style and food, and has a highly acclaimed pop-up restaurant, Cash n Curry. A social enterprise dedicated to raising funds for projects helping India’s street children, profits from Cash n Curry also help to liberate trafficked children and those in bonded labour. Some of the author royalties from this book will also be donated by the Urban Rajah to support these organisations.

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One of the things that makes his Curry Memoirs such an enjoyable read is the way that the Urban Rajah’s zest for adventure, as well as food, is evident from every page.

It reminds us of the comforting warmth of a family kitchen as well as tempting us with some far-flung escapism. We begin with the chapatti shuffle in the Peter’s kitchen, are led past Asian camp food high atop cliffs of Big Sur, and are taken via a Siberian Duck Curry on a trip to a lake fringed with man-sized rushes near Karachi.

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I also like the way that a lot of the dishes seem to be a lot healthier than the dumbed down ghee-laden dishes that often pass for ‘Indian’ food in this country. I’ve only travelled to India once, to Kerala, where I stayed at a fantastic homestay and enjoyed the beautifully spiced home-cooking of our hosts. It included lots of fresh fish and vegetables, plenty of fresh-tasting home-made chutneys and I couldn’t resist wrangling an invite into the family kitchen to see how these dishes were made. Curry leaves, black mustard seeds, fresh ginger and chillis were used a lot, all adding flavour to great local produce. Much of it growing within sight of the table where we ate.

Many of the dishes in this book remind me a lot of the fragrant southern Indian food I enjoyed on this trip; I was glad to see a Kingfish curry included as well as a Keralan Fish Stew. There are lots of dishes that are new to me that I’m eager to cook too. In fact I have a feeling that this is going to be one of those books on my kitchen shelf full of tell-tale food spattered pages. It’ll also be a book that I’ll reach for when in need of a feel-good read. As the Urban Rajah proclaims:

“This book isn’t just about nutrition, it’s about nourishment at every level. It’s about food to fill your senses and bellies and spark a lust for adventure.”

Curry Memoirs

 With many thanks to Headline publishing for my review copy of The Urban Rajah’s Curry Memoirs by Ivor Peters. Published in hardback and ebook by Headline on 9th May 2013.

All photos used in this post are from The Urban Rajah’s Curry Memoirs by Ivor Peters. See www.urbanrajah.com.

 

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