Two people who influenced me very much in my twenties were my old restaurant bosses Jo and John. For a few years, I did some waitressing to support my dance teaching and various other jobs. Whilst waitressing for a well known food chain, Jo and John were the best bosses that I ever had. At work, Jo and John treated their staff with respect and would never ask you to do something they would not do themselves. Whether it was in the kitchen, the bar, waitressing, or even cleaning the toilets., they were not afraid to get their hands dirty, muck in with the rest of the staff and do what needed to be done. John and Jo were always the ones buying the staff drinks at the end of the night, put on breakfast for the staff at Christmas and really took care of us all. In turn, we were happy to work hard for them. Soon, they became not just bosses, but also friends. We shared a love of good food, wine, musicals and also the theatre. Oh how I remember fondly spending all day on a Sunday waitressing, with Jo, John and their assistant manager Dan whilst we sang show tunes to entertain ourselves through the shift. Chicago was a favourite – re-enacting the cell block tango whilst the guests ate their meals.
As all good things do, eventually our time together came to an end. Jo and John managed to escape the restaurant trade and took up early retirement in Goa – a favourite holiday destination. They have been on my mind a lot lately as it has been hard to find time to keep in contact with them – the days turn into weeks and months, and all of a sudden you realise you haven’t spoken to them for a while and life is catching you unawares.
Whilst flicking through my Nigella Kitchen book the other day, I came across this South Indian Vegetable Curry and immediately thought of Jo and John. I have always thought that curry was a really tricky dish to master, but in honour of Jo and John, an also National Vegetarian Week, I decided to take the plunge and have a go at cooking my first curry. The family and I were very pleased with the result. I loved the coconut base and mildness of the curry sauce, followed by a spicy kick. Using the seasonal Asparagus was great too as it really soaked up the sauce well and complimented the other vegetables.
South Indian Vegetable Curry
This recipe is adapted from a Nigella recipe. I omitted the beans and broccoli and added the mange tout and asparagus. I also added a little cinnamon to give the sauce a sweeter flavour.
2 x 15ml table spoons garlic oil
1 onion, peeled, halved, cut into half moon crescents
Pinch of sea salt flakes
1 green chilli, de-seeded and finely chopped
2cm chunk of fresh ginger, peeled and cut into fine strips
¼ teaspoon crushed chilli flakes
1 teaspoon turmeric
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 x 400ml Tin of coconut milk
600ml vegetable stock
2 tsp sugar
1 x 15ml tablespoon tamarind paste
300g Cauliflower, separated into florets
150g Asparagus - Halved
125g Baby Corn – Halved
150g Mange Tout
2 x 15ml tablespoons chopped coriander
1) Heat the oil in a large saucepan and fry the sliced onion, sprinkled with the salt flakes until it softens.
2) Add the chopped fresh chilli and ginger strips and stir on and off whilst cooking for about a minute
3) Add the crushed chilli flakes, turmeric, ground cumin, ginger and cinnamon. Stir well and cook for another minute or so, before adding the coconut milk, stock, sugar and tamarind paste. Stir to combine.
4) Bring the sauce to the boil. Add the cauliflower florets and cook for about 10 minutes. Then add the baby corn and cook for a further 3 minutes. Next, add the asparagus and cook for a further 5 minutes.
5) Once the vegetables are tender, add the mange tout, season to taste and cook for a further 3 minutes
6) Sprinkle the fresh coriander over the curry and serve immediately with rice or some naan bread