There is very little I miss about England, apart from a good curry. There are good Vietnamese and Cambodian restaurants here in south-west France, although to me those cuisines lack the unique punch of Indian food. The Indian restaurants we have tried haven’t quite hit the mark; it has felt as if they’ve tinkered with the spices to suit a French clientele whose palate is not accustomed to the powerful flavours of an authentic Indian curry.

Friends returning from a trip to England over Christmas brought me back a supply of mango powder, kaffir lime leaves, curry leaves and nigella, some of the spices essential to making a curry but impossible to find here. Consequently we’ve been having a lot of curries recently to warm us up on these chilly winter days.

Last night I tried a new recipe for a vegetable curry and it was so good, I have to share it. Although it is very simple and uses few spices, the flavour was absolutely gorgeous. It took less than 20 minutes from start to finish.

Cook some vegetables of your choice. I used cauliflower, potatoes, frozen broccoli, green beans and peas, in total about 1.5 kilos. Steam or simmer until vegetables are just tender and the potatoes are soft. Drain them well.

Heat 2 tablespoons of vegetable oil in a large saucepan, and fry ½ teaspoon of mustard seeds and 1 teaspoon of cumin seeds. (You can roast the cumin seeds in a frying pan for a couple of minutes to increase the flavour if you wish.)

When the seeds begin to jump about in the oil, add ½ teaspoon of nigella (onion seed), 1 teaspoon of turmeric powder, 2 crushed garlic cloves, 1 red chilli (I didn’t have one so substituted a quarter of a teaspoon of strong chilli powder) and 8 curry leaves.

Reduce the heat and fry gently until the garlic is golden. 

Add the vegetables to the pan with 1 teaspoon of sugar, a good pinch of salt and 150 ml. of plain yoghurt mixed with a teaspoon of cornflour. Stir thoroughly and heat through to serve. 

I replaced the yoghurt with soya cream for a vegan version.

The recipe came from the Curries of the World flipcook book, and is described as a typical example of cooking from the east and north-east of India. It differs from most other recipes I have seen for chorchori, being simpler and using fewer ingredients, but we loved the result. This recipe is a keeper.

I really like this book, the recipes are straightforward and do not require lengthy, complicated techniques (you know what a lazy cook I am!) and they work. I see it’s available used from for as little as 1p.

Tarka dhal tonight.


Lethal chocolate mousse

We invited some French friends for dinner earlier this week. Danny is very much a carnivore, and I realise that a vegetarian meal must represent something of an ordeal to him, so to supplement our main course I served a plate of charcuterie.

All was going well, although I noticed that Danny was mopping his brow, which was surprising because the room wasn’t exactly warm. Then I served the chocolate mousse. Feeling in an experimental mood, I’d added six drops of Tabasco to the cream to liven it up and make it more interesting, chili and chocolate being a favourite flavour combination of mine. You might expect six drops in 375 ml. to be virtually unnoticeable, as indeed I thought it was. In fact it was so subtle that I was thinking that I could have been more liberal with the Tabasco. Then I noticed Danny mopping more vigorously.

“Is there some spice in it?” he asked, pointing at his dish.

“Yes, just a very small amount of chili,” I replied. “Please don’t eat it if you don’t like it.”

“It’s just that I’m allergic to all spices,” he said. “They make me very unwell. But I finish this – it’s very good.”

“All spices? Everything?”

“Yes. Even garlic. If I eat too much spice, I can faint.”

I carried out a mental inventory of our meal: pepper on the grilled goats’ cheese; garlic in the salad dressing; paprika sprinkled on the potato mayonnaise; peppercorns in the salami, and the chili. Was I going to be responsible for the collapse of one of our nicest friends?

Luckily the effect wore off quickly, and was flushed away with some good red wine, but now, to the ever-growing list of things our friends are either allergic to or don’t like, I must add in large red letters next to Danny: SPICE ALLERGY.