Honey-Glazed Roasted Carrots

Too often, the vegetable element of a meal is an afterthought; too often we settle for simply steamed veg which, although lovely, doesn’t always make the most of what fresh vegetables have to offer.

I don’t think you can ever go wrong roasting vegetables. These carrots, for example, are the most carroty carrots you ever tasted, revealing the sweet lusciousness hiding away in these all-too common root vegetables. You might consider carrots to be boring, taste these and prepare to be blown away.

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RECIPE

500g organic carrots, scrubbed but unpeeled

2 tbsp sunflower oil

2 tbsp white wine vinegar

2 tbsp clear honey


METHOD 

Heat your oven to 190C/ 170C fan/ gas 5.

Tip the carrots into a roasting tin and toss with the oil and some salt and pepper. Roast for 30 mins.

Mix the vinegar and honey together, then drizzle over the carrots, toss well and return to the oven for a further 30 mins.

Apploffi Pie

I have had a yearning to make banoffee pie for weeks, but browsing through my books recently I spotted this apple version by Kate McCully which is an interesting twist on the idea. It is delicious, but very sweet and indulgent. I can’t eat very much of it, but I love every bite.

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RECIPE

400g tin of condensed milk

1 large Bramley apple, peeled, cored and sliced

2 eating apples, peeled, cored and sliced

50ml orange juice

50g light muscovado sugar

425ml double cream

25g caster sugar

½tsp ground cinnamon

Freshly grated nutmeg

For the pastry:

250g plain flour, plus extra for dusting

25g icing sugar

65g cold butter, cubed

65g cold Trex, cubed

1 egg, plus 1 egg yolk


METHOD 

Pre-heat the oven to 140°C/275°F/Gas Mark 1.

Put the unopened can of condensed milk into an ovenproof casserole (it’s worth doing as many cans as will fit to save energy and then storing them to use at a later date). Cover the cans with water and bring to the boil on the hob. Cover with a lid and transfer to the oven for 3½ hrs. Remove the can (or cans) from the water and set aside to cool.

To make the pastry, put the flour and sugar into a bowl, add the butter and Trex and rub together until the mixture resembles breadcrumbs. Work in the whole egg and egg yolk to form a dough, then wrap in cling film and chill for 30 mins.

Pre-heat the oven to 180°C/350°F/Gas Mark 4.

On a lightly floured work surface, roll out the pastry to the thickness of a £1 coin and use to line a 23cm loose-bottomed flan tin. Prick the base with a fork, then line the pastry case with crumpled greaseproof paper. Fill with ceramic baking beans, dried pulses or rice and bake for 15-20 mins.

Remove the paper and beans, then return the pastry case to the oven for a further 5 mins, until it is evenly golden. Set aside to cool.

To make the filling, put the apples, orange juice and muscovado sugar in a saucepan and heat gently until the fruit is pulpy and quite dry. Set aside until completely cold.

To assemble the pie, open the tin of condensed milk and empty the toffee into the pastry case, spreading it out evenly. Spread the apple on top of this. Whip the cream with the caster sugar and cinnamon until it forms soft peaks, then spread this over the apple. Sprinkle a little nutmeg over the cream and serve.

Carrot Puree with Star Anise

If you eat in a high-quality restaurant, or watch cooking competitions such as Masterchef you will be familiar with the smears and piped blobs of pureed vegetables used to add visual and flavour interest to dishes. It is easy to dismiss such fancies as pretentious twaddle that have no place on your own dining room table, but actually – used judiciously – they really can enhance a dish, and they are quite simple to make.

This particular puree is excellent alongside beef or salmon, and I have also used it as an accompaniment to cottage pie. Use it sparingly as it is quite intense, but delicious nonetheless.

Making things like this makes me smile, if only because I get to use the small copper sauce pans we picked up for a song at a car-boot sale!

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RECIPE – serves 4 as a garnish

3 medium carrots, finely sliced

40g unsalted butter

100ml vegetable stock

1 star anise

2 tbsp double cream


METHOD 

Melt the butter in a large pan and add the carrots. Cook in the butter for five minutes until just starting to soften and the butter is thick and juicy with carrot, then add the vegetable stock and star anise. Simmer for fifteen minutes until the stock has reduced and the carrots are meltingly soft. Add the double cream, stir thoroughly then tip into a blender and blitz until it is very smooth.

Tip into a coarse sieve and push the puree through it into a small saucepan, this will ensure that the puree has no lumps. Check and adjust the seasoning, and warm thoroughly before serving.

How you serve it is up to you, if you are dressing a plate for a dinner party then let your imagination guide you, but if it is for a midweek dinner just serve a dollop on the side of the plate – there’s a time and a place for pretentious twaddle!

Vegetarian Cottage Pie with Mixed Root Mash

Quorn products are getting so good now that it is easy to fool people into thinking they are eating meat – admittedly it only works with processed meat, you won’t be seeing a Quorn sirloin steak any time soon. Quorn mince is a particular favourite of mine, properly flavoured it is a perfect, healthy and low-fat alternative to real mince.

This delicious vegetarian twist on cottage pie has two key elements: the rich, succulent gravy and the earthy, deep flavours of the mash. It takes a little time to make but it is impossible to get wrong.

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RECIPE – feeds 6

2 tbsp vegetable or rapeseed oil

1/2 tsp dried oregano

1/2 tsp dried thyme

1/2 tsp dried basil

2 medium onions, finely chopped

200g chestnut mushrooms, sliced

2 fat garlic cloves, peeled and crushed

400g Quorn mince

1 tin chopped tomatoes

1 heaped teaspoon Marmite

1 heaped teaspoon English mustard

1 heaped teaspoon wholegrain mustard

1 generous tablespoon of tomato puree

a generous splash of Worcestershire sauce

125g frozen peas

sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

For the mash:

2 medium parsnips (approx 250g)

200g swede

600g Maris Piper or similar floury potatoes

300g sweet potato

200g unsalted butter

a good grating of Parmesan


METHOD 

Heat the oil in a large pan with the dried herbs, add the onions and mushrooms and cook on a medium-high heat for ten minutes or so until lightly coloured, add the garlic toward the end of the cooking time. When coloured to your satisfaction stir in the Quorn mince and mix thoroughly until everything is fully combined.

Meanwhile, put the tomatoes in a pan over a medium heat and add the Marmite, mustards, tomato puree and Worcestershire sauce. Cook until the onions and mushrooms are ready, then correct and adjust the seasoning, adding more of the aromatic ingredients until it tastes right to you. Add the gravy to the onion and mushroom mix, together with approximately 200ml water to loosen the mixture. Bring to the boil and simmer for ten minutes until thick and rich, then allow to sit for as long as you can for the flavours to fully develop. When you are ready to assemble the pie, warm the mixture through and add  the peas.

For the mash, chop the vegetables to the same size, bring two pans of salted water to the boil and cook the parsnips and swede together in one pan, the potatoes and sweet potatoes together in the other until soft. You can cook all the root veg together in one pot, adding the potatoes and sweet potatoes once the parsnips and swede have been boiling for five minutes, but it is more accurate to cook them in two separate pans.

When all the veg is cooked, mash all of the veg together in one large pan over a low heat to drive out any excess moisture. I use a potato ricer to make mash as it results in a perfectly smooth mix, but you can use a traditional masher and plenty of elbow. When the mash is smooth melt in the butter and mix thoroughly. Correct the seasoning.

Heat your oven to 180C/ 160C fan/ gas 4.

To assemble the pie, warm the filling and transfer to a deep pie dish, evening it out. Working from the edges of the dish, spoon the mash onto the filling then using a fork tease the mash into ridges, these will crisp up as the pie cooks. Grate over a light sprinkling of finely grated Parmesan cheese.

Bake in the oven for approximately 40 minutes, or until the mash is golden brown and the filling is bubbling.

Serve alongside roasted or steamed carrots, broccoli or other seasonal vegetables.

Butternut Rostis

Browsing through Sabrina Ghayour’s excellent ‘Sirocco’ recently, I found myself bookmarking page after page of delicious-looking recipes that I wanted to make. The reality is that only a very small fraction ever will get made – if I made everything I wanted to I would have to live to 160 and I’d be as fat as a hippo!

I have made a few of Sabrina Ghayour’s recipes now though, and every one has been an absolute delight. She makes this as a light lunch, with a poached egg on top, and I reckon that would be a fabulous meal, but such is the versatility of these patties that they also go very well with a salmon fillet, seared in a very hot pan and served alongside a simple salad – great for autumn and spring alike.

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RECIPE – feeds 4

1 small butternut squash, peeled, de-seeded and coarsely grated
1 large onion, finely chopped
3 tsp sea salt flakes
1 heaped tbsp plain flour
1 heaped tsp turmeric
1 heaped tsp ground cumin
1 heaped tsp ground coriander
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1 bunch spring onions, thinly sliced
½ small packet (about 15g) dill, leaves and fronds finely chopped
1 large egg
vegetable oil, for frying
freshly ground black pepper


METHOD 

Put the grated butternut squash and chopped onion in a mixing bowl and add the salt. Mix well, using your hands. The salt will draw out excess moisture from the squash and onion, resulting in crisp rösti. Leave to stand for approximately 30 minutes then, using a sieve or clean cloth, squeeze to extract as much moisture as you can from the mixture – you will be amazed how much liquid comes out – and return it to the mixing bowl.

Preheat the oven to 160°C/fan 140°C/gas 3.  Line a baking tray with baking parchment and heat a large frying pan over a medium heat.

Add the flour, spices, spring onions and dill (reserving 1 tsp dill for sprinkling) to the squash and onion mixture and mix well with your hands. Once the spices and dill are evenly incorporated, crack in 1 egg and mix again, adding a generous seasoning of black pepper. Shape the mixture into 12 patties, each approximately 10cm wide and 1cm thick.

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Heat a good amount of oil in the hot frying pan and fry the patties in batches for 6–8 minutes on one side or until nice and crisp, then flip over and fry on the other side for 5–6 minutes or until deep golden brown. Keep the cooked patties warm in the oven on the prepared baking tray while you fry subsequent batches.

Place 3 rösti on each serving plate with a little sprinkling of fresh dill and freshly ground black pepper, then serve immediately alongside your main ingredient of choice.

Pan-Fried Sea Bass with Herby Salsa and Fennel Chips

This was a meal born out of necessity: I was short on time, short on inspiration and short of the will to do much in the way of cooking. Fennel chips are a staple in our house because they are healthy (being oven-cooked), easy and delicious. The question remained: what to have with them? Normally I would sear a couple of tuna steaks and serve alongside a zingy salsa verde, but I nearly always do that and I fancied a change.

Lurking, unloved, in the back of my freezer was a bag of sea bass fillets. They needed to be used, Christmas is coming and I will need the freezer space. Now what? Something was required to tie my posh fish ‘n’ chips together and tartare sauce, lovely as it is, is a bit too overpowering for sea bass. Instead I put together a simple, fresh, citrusy herb salsa and… wow. What a delicious meal it was. You can’t really call chips – however they are cooked – a light meal; in this meal though that is exactly what they became. It may be cold December right now, but this is a meal that would be equally appropriate for a warm spring evening, eaten in the garden with a good Pinot Grigio alongside it.

I’m making a calendar entry right now, just so I don’t forget to make this again in April…

At this stage, to avoid confusion, I should point out that fennel chips are not made of fennel, they are regular thick-cut potato chips scattered with fennel seeds – a match made in heaven for just about any fish, cooked any way you like.

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RECIPE – Feeds 2

For the chips:

2 large floury potatoes (e.g. maris pipers, roosters) per person, plus 2

olive oil

fennel seeds

sea salt

For the salsa:

2 ripe tomatoes, skinned, and finely diced

1 long red chilli, de-seeded and finely chopped

1/2 tsp dried chilli flakes

a small bunch of flat-leaf parsley, leaves only, chopped

a small bunch of fresh coriander, leaves only, chopped

zest and juice of a lemon

a pinch of sea salt

To serve:

3 or 4 sea bass fillets, skin on

sea salt

the juice of half a lemon

a few good handfuls of rocket

lemon wedges


METHOD 

First get the chips cooking…

As a rule of thumb, allow two large floury potatoes per person, then add two more for the pot. So if you are cooking for two use six potatoes, if cooking for four people use ten large potatoes – believe me, there will be no leftovers.

Pre-heat the oven to 220C / 200C fan / gas 7.

Peel the potatoes and chop them into thick and chunky chips. The chips at the extreme sides are likely to end up skinnier so will be more crispy, adding great contrast.

Place the chips in a large pan of unsalted cold water, bring to the boil. Keep an eye on the water and when it just begins to boil set a timer for three minutes. After three minutes drain the chips in a colander and let them steam themselves dry for a minute or two. Hang on to the empty pot, you will need it again.

Give the chips in the colander a good shake, the edges of the chips should roughen and fluff up slightly. Tip the chips back into the pan and drizzle a good glug of olive oil over the chips – don’t overdo it, all you are trying to do is coat each chip with a film of oil so it doesn’t stick to your baking tray. Agitate the pan to spread the oil around, then take a small handful of fennel seeds and scatter them all over the chips, agitate the pan again then tip the chips out onto a large roasting tray.

Give each chip plenty of room, if you crowd them together they will steam and so won’t roast so effectively. You only need a millimetre or two between each chip, but if you need to use two roasting trays then use two roasting trays. Scatter more fennel seeds over the chips, ensuring they are evenly distributed. Season lightly with sea salt, then roast on the middle shelf for approximately an hour. Turn them after 30 minutes to ensure even browning and so you can gauge how much longer they will actually need.

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Now make the salsa:

To de-skin your tomatoes: boil a kettle, lightly score a cross in the base of the tomato and put it into a cup. Pour the just-boiled water over the tomato and leave for 10-15 seconds. Empty the hot water out and immediately refill it with cold water. Lift out the tomato, insert the point of a knife under the score and lift the skin away, you should find that the skin peels off easily. If you leave the tomato in the hot water for too long it will begin to cook, and the skin will not come so easily.

Cut the tomatoes into quarters then slice into thin strips, then slice across to make fine dice. Combine with the rest of the ingredients, season with the salt, then put the salsa to one side.

Pat the sea bass fillets dry with kitchen paper, then place on more kitchen paper, skin side up and season with a little salt. Allow to sit for 15 minutes or so; the salt will draw more moisture out of the skin. Pat the skin dry; the skin needs to be as dry as you can possibly make it so that the skin will turn beautifully crisp. Now turn the fillets over onto more clean, dry kitchen paper and lightly season the flesh side. Then heat the oil in a large frying pan.

When the oil is hot, but not smoking, fry the fillets, skin side down, over a medium heat for approximately 3 minutes until the skin is crisp and the fish moves freely in the pan. Carefully flip the fish over, squeeze the juice of half a lemon into the pan, and cook for a further minute.

Remove from the pan onto a chopping board, skin side up and, using a sharp knife, cut each fillet in half.  Place a good handful of rocket leaves on the plate, arrange the fillet pieces on the rocket, then drizzle the salsa over the top. Serve with lemon wedges on the side of the plate.

Serve the chips separately, in the middle of the table along with the remaining salsa, so people can help themselves.

Christmas Chutney

The only reason this is called a Christmas chutney is because this is the time of year that I make it – a great big pot of it. It easily lasts a year if stored somewhere cool and dark, and once opened a jar will safely last a month in the fridge – though to be absolutely honest a jar did once get lost in the depths of my fridge for I don’t know how many months and it was still delicious – and safe to eat – after all that time. That shouldn’t be surprising, this is, after all, a pickle. In fact it is quite similar to a very well known high street brand of pickle, but better, of course.

I like giving home-made edible presents at Christmas: sloe gin, shortbread, biscuits for cheese and this chutney are ever-present elements of a small, home-made gift hamper. I don’t think there is a better present that you can give; after all, what can be more precious than giving someone your time, thought and energy?

I am indebted to Nigella Lawson for this recipe. It came from ‘Nigella Christmas’ and as is usual with Nigella’s recipes it is perfect just as she wrote it.

You will need a sufficient number of jars in which to store this chutney; the sizes don’t really matter, you can re-use old jam jars if you wish or use small Kilner jars. A jam funnel is useful for getting the chutney into the jars cleanly, and you will also need wax discs to put on top of the chutney before putting the lids on.

The longer this chutney is allowed to sit in the cupboard, the better it will be!

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RECIPE – makes around 2.25 litres

750g cooking apples, peeled, cored and chopped into small pieces

1 medium onion, peeled and chopped

500g fresh or frozen cranberries (thaw them if frozen)

250g soft, pitted dates, each cut into six pieces

2 clementines or satsumas

400g golden caster sugar

1 tsp whole cloves, finely ground in a mortar and pestle or coffee grinder

1 heaped tsp ground ginger

1 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon

1/4 tsp cayenne pepper

500ml white wine vinegar

2 tsp sea salt flakes (or 1 tsp table salt)


METHOD 

Put the apples, onion, cranberries and dates into a large pan, then grate the zest of the clementines/satsumas over the top, squeeze in the juice then scrape out the pulp, chop it finely and add to the pan. The pectin in the pulp helps the chutney to thicken up.

Add the sugar, ground cloves, ginger, cinnamon, cayenne pepper and salt, then pour in the vinegar. Give it a good stir and turn on the heat. At this point your chutney will look something like this:

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Bring it to the boil then reduce it to a gentle simmer and let it bubble away, uncovered for about an hour until you have a dark, thick, sticky mass of deliciousness.

While the chutney is doing its thing, sterilise your jars and lids: heat the oven to 140C/ gas 1 and wash your jars and lids in hot soapy water, rinse and let them dry out in the warmed oven. When you take them out to use them, keep your grubby fingers away from the insides of the lids and jars or you will undo your good work.

When the chutney is ready to put into the jars, while it and the jars are still warm, fill the jars to within 5mm of the top, place a wax disc on top and put the lid on. Allow it to cool completely; the warm air in the jar will contract as it cools and provide you with a sterile vacuum which allows your chutney to last without spoiling.

Tamarind Honey Prawns

Another of my favourite starters, this sweet/sour delight is once again from Sabrina Ghayour’s excellent ‘Sirocco’.

This can be prepared in minutes, the only forward planning required is 30 minutes for the prawns to marinade. I pan-fry them here, but they work equally well when skewered and barbecued.

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RECIPE – feeds 4 as a starter

For the marinade:

100g tamarind paste (I use a concentrate and dilute it)

75g runny honey

2 garlic cloves, peeled and crushed

2 tbsp light muscovado sugar

4 tbsp olive oil

sea salt

To cook:

400g raw tiger prawns, peeled with the tails left on

3 spring onions, finely sliced at an angle

a small bunch of fresh coriander, leaves only, chopped

1/2 tsp dried chilli flakes

sesame seeds


METHOD 

Prepare the marinade: combine all the ingredients in a mixing bowl until the sugar has dissolved. Season with salt to taste – you MUST taste this to get the balance of sweet, sour and salty correct.

Add the raw prawns to the marinade and work the marinade into the meat with your fingers. Cover with cling film and allow to marinate at room temperature for 30 minutes.

Meanwhile, prepare the spring onions and coriander.

When ready to cook, heat a large frying pan over a medium-high heat and when it is hot pour a little of the marinade into it, with the chilli flakes. The marinade will bubble and start to reduce, leave it for a minute or so until it is visibly sticky, then add the prawns and cook for about a minute on each side until just pink.

Your pan will look like this, note the vigorous bubbling on the left hand side as the marinade thickens and reduces:

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Serve on small plates, with a little of the reduced marinade and scattered with the spring onion, coriander leaves and sesame seeds.

Za’atar and Goats’ Cheese Puffs

I have a wide array of canapes, light bites, side dishes and snacks in my notebook, they’re always handy to have because you never know when somebody will ask you to make something for a party, drop in out of the blue for a cuppa or just for those times when you think a meal requires something else to complete it.

These puff pastry rolls are absolutely delicious and though they do require just a little forethought in that you need to have some defrosted puff pastry to hand, they are quick to put together and quick to cook.

They come courtesy of Sabrina Ghayour, whose books ‘Persiana’ and ‘Sirocco’ come chock-full of delicious Middle-Eastern flavours. I have not modified this recipe at all, it is perfect just as it is. I am not a fan of ready-rolled puff pastry but it does make it even easier – if you prefer to use half a block of frozen puff, as I do, then you won’t need quite so much cheese and za’atar. The quantities are not crucial anyway, just follow your instincts and use less or more as your tastes dictate.

Za’atar is a deeply aromatic Middle-Eastern herb and spice mix. These go well as an alternative to bread rolls when making a spicy soup, or pretty much anything made with butternut squash. They also make a brilliant snack and reheat well in a 180C/ 160C fan/ Gas 4 oven for 5 minutes.

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RECIPE – makes 15-20

250g puff pastry (half a block), or a sheet of ready-rolled (320g)

olive oil, for brushing

2 heaped tbsp za’atar

300g soft goats’ cheese

sea salt and freshly ground black pepper


METHOD 

Preheat the oven to 220C / 200C fan/ Gas 7. Line a baking sheet with baking parchment.

If using block pastry, roll it out on a lightly floured surface to a rectangle of around 30cm x 20cm. Brush the pastry lightly and evenly with a little olive oil, like so:

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You can see that my pastry is not quite straight, it doesn’t matter. Now sprinkle 1 tbsp of the za’atar evenly over the pastry:

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Crumble the goats’ cheese evenly across the pastry, leaving a 2.5cm border on the long edge of the pastry furthest away from you, like so:

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Season generously with salt and pepper and sprinkle the remaining za’atar over the cheese:

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It might look like rather a lot, but don’t worry. Now, starting with the long edge of the pastry that is closest to you, roll the pastry as tightly as you can without tearing or crushing it. You will end with something resembling a Swiss roll.

Cut the roll in half, then using a serrated knife cut each half into rounds approximately 1cm thick. Trim away the scruffy ends. Pat each whirl lightly to slightly flatten them so they stay together while they cook, and place them on the baking tray leaving sufficient space between them to allow them to rise:

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There is no need to glaze, just bake for approximately 15 minutes until well-risen and golden. Be prepared to immediately lose half of what you have baked – grasping fingers are a real danger when these come out of the oven!

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Chicken Madras

It’s not often that I cook a meat dish, my wife is vegetarian so if I am going to indulge myself then I need to ensure that I cook something alongside it that she will enjoy as well. Last night I really fancied a Chicken Madras, not just because I had a yearning for curry, but also because I really enjoy making curries – it’s the alchemy of all the spices coming together, get it right and a curry really comes alive on your tastebuds.

Of course, making one curry dish meant that I had to make at least one other curry dish, and I ended up cooking a veritable feast. Channa Masala (chick pea curry, the recipe for which I will post in a day or two), Bombay Potatoes, carrot and ginger salad and naan bread. I spent a very enjoyable afternoon in the kitchen, a treat as it isn’t often I get the chance to devote so much time to cooking.

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RECIPE – serves 2

4 long red chillies

4 boneless, skinless chicken thighs

4 tbsp ghee

1 medium onion, finely chopped

3 fat garlic cloves, peeled and crushed

1 tin of chopped tomatoes

2 heaped tsp ground cumin

2 heaped tsp Kashmiri chilli powder (or 2 tsp paprika and 1/2 tsp hot chilli powder)

1 heaped tbsp garam masala

1 heaped tsp ground turmeric

1 tbsp caster sugar

1 tsp flaked sea salt

fresh coriander leaves to garnish


METHOD 

Finely chop two of the chillies, and cut a long slit from stalk to tip on each of the others. Leave all the seeds in, this is a curry that needs a good amount of chilli heat. Chop each of the chicken thighs into eight bite-sized pieces. Put all the spices, salt and sugar into a small bowl and add a little water, mix to a paste and set aside – doing this prevents the powdered spices from burning when added to the hot pan.

Melt the ghee in a large pan or wok, over a medium-high heat. Gently saute the onion with a pinch of salt for ten minutes or so until soft and translucent – the salt helps to liberate the water in the onion and prevents it colouring too quickly. When the onion is soft, add the garlic, chopped chillies and spice paste, turn the heat up and stir-fry for a minute or so until aromatic. Add the chicken thighs and whole, slit chillies and cook on for a couple of minutes, keeping the pan moving so the spices do not burn and the chicken is coloured all over.

Now add the tinned tomatoes, bring to the boil then reduce the heat and simmer for 7-10 minutes until the chicken is just cooked through and the sauce has thickened.

Serve immediately alongside Basmati rice and garnished with coriander leaves.

Thanks are due to the Hairy Bikers for this one – two men who love a good curry and know how to cook it!