Vegetable Curry a’ la Plume From the Plume of Feathers in Portscatho chefs

An easy, relatively lazy curry requiring little technical ability to make.

First off, decide what veg you want to curry. We normally go for aubergines, courgettes, cauliflowers, butternut squash, mushrooms, potatoes, and peppers. Then of course you need the holy trinity of curry- making; white onions, fresh ginger-root and fresh garlic.

So let’s say for a 4 person curry you’ll probably want:
1 white onion
1 medium squash
2 peppers, any colour
1 medium aubergine
2 courgettes
half a cauli if you’re a fan
7 or 8 mushrooms
Enough fresh ginger for a couple of teaspoons full
2 cloves of garlic
Several large glugs of veg oil
A big, sturdy pot
Curry powder, cumin powder, chilli powder etc.
Tomato paste or 6 fresh tomatoes
A tin of coconut milk, or some mango chutney. Some fresh coriander leaves (I recommend washing and chopping the veg before you start cooking. Try for nice inch sized dice, but don’t worry too much. A good curry doesn’t need symmetry to be beautiful)

The simplicity of this curry is it makes its own sauce, with no blending or fannying about. The (admittedly unhealthy) secret to the sauce is to start your curry with lashings of vegetable oil. The pan needs to have about an inch-deep pool of oil at the bottom. The plan is, this oil will combine with your powdered spices and create a lovely thick, spicy, oily dripping sauce that turns everything it touches yellow, soaks up into your naan bread and dribbles down your chin. Mmmmmmm! If an inch deep pool of veg oil sounds excessive, it is, but no one ever said the Plume does health food. Have some nuts from the bar instead if you’ve got a problem with this.

Your next move is to chop up your onions and add them to the oil while it is cold, then gradually turn up the heat (thus ensuring a nice even cooking, and no unpredictable and sudden heartbreaking scorching of your lovingly prepared onions) and gently cook them, without colour, for about five minutes. Don’t burn them.

Next, keeping the temperature low, toss in the garlic, which you have chopped and mashed and puréed, or just sliced and hacked if you are lazy. Again, the key here is to cook low and slow, and not to scorch the stuff; no one likes burnt garlic. It will make your house smell rancid for weeks; and you, too, if you eat it. At this stage, if you are using it, add the ginger. We grate it in a cheese grater, because we make curry for 40 portions at a time, and use about 300g of ginger a pop. You could probably just dice a little bit with your knife. Or mash it up with a rock, or whatever.

Allow the holy trinity to become acquainted and relax in the pool of hot oil, cooking gently and going soft and glossy and shiny.

If you are well prepared, you will have diced all your veg in advance, and will now be ready to start cooking it by adding it to the oil. I suggest you add the hardest, denser vegetables first, as they will require more time to cook. In all honesty though, if you have neither the time nor inclination to start squeezing and prodding your sliced veg, you could throw everything in together at this stage and give it a good stir.

Turn up the heat a little.

If you are using it, you may notice the aubergine has a rather sponge-like tendency to drink all the oil; don’t worry. Just bung a bit more oil in. It’ll release most of it later, anyway. Don’t be afraid.

The veg now needs to cook. Depending on how good your stove top is, and your pan, and how much you’re making, this could be anything from ten minutes to half an hour, I would imagine. Try and judge it by the sheen and structure of the veg; if it looks like it’s cooking, good stuff. It’s not complicated. If you really can’t tell if a vegetable is cooked or not, the Plume of Feathers, Portscatho, does a full range of very reasonably priced, labour saving meals, just for people like you.

Now it is time to add your spices. We use a medium-strength pre mixed commercial curry powder, organic cumin powder, and very hot chilli powder. Some folks like to blend their own spice mixture, and add all manner of varieties. I usually add cardamom pods if I make this at home, and fenugreek powder.

I can’t tell you what ratios to use; the curry powder will probably be the dominant flavour, the chilli will determine how hot it is, and the cumin will give it that authentic-take-away background tang that no-one can ever put their finger on. You’ll have to work out what works best for you. We go for equal amounts of curry powder to cumin, and one third the amount of chilli powder. For the average 4-person curry, 3 tablespoons of curry powder, 3 of the cumin, and one level spoonful of the chilli will be plenty.

It is important to cook out the spices if you are using powder. Failure to do so will result in an unpleasant chalky texture, and the spices will taste bitter. They should mix nicely with the oil to form a sauce which will thicken as it cooks down. Leave it to cook gently on a low heat for at least ten to fifteen minutes, stirring every now and then to make sure it is not burning…

…nearly there…

Once you’re happy with the mix, add a table spoon of tomato paste or two, and stir it all in. (Or go mad and use fresh chopped ones.) At this point, you can finish the curry with either a few tablespoons of coconut milk, which will have the added advantage of taking some of the heat out if you’ve gone a bit mental with the chilli, or mango chutney for a sweeter finish.

Or neither, if you like what you’ve made. Add some salt now, at the end, to your liking. Serve with rice, sprinkle a handful of chopped coriander leaves over the top… and open a beer!

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