sYou need a few minutes without any distraction to fry a batch of fresh curry leaves. Close the kitchen door, pour a thin layer of oil into a wide, shallow-sided frying pan and set over a moderate heat. Strip them off their rough stems, drizzle the young, emerald green leaves in hot oil and stand back while crackling and popping, gradually calming themselves down. (The cap will help here, but remove it as soon as they stop chattering.) Shake the pan, watching carefully until each leaf is transparent and slightly brittle. Lift with a drain spoon to a piece of kitchen paper.
You’ll be left with a pile of dark twisted, shimmering green leaves and a kitchen full of warm, smoky fragrance. (I suggested you close the door.) The window between the perfect and burnt sheets is a heartbeat, so don’t take your eyes off the pan for a second. If you burn it – as you have done more than once – you will spend days getting rid of the smell.
I use curry leaves with lentil bowls (I love them in turmeric yellow dal) and spread over carrots or cucumber raita. Their presence is rarely decisive in a dish, but their aroma is a delightful addition. I must add that the dried version is no better than any other dry herb.
This week I made an eggplant and lentil dish that lasted for two days, something we steamed in deep bowls and then came back to for seconds. And since figs were still cheap and plentiful, I popped a plate of them in the oven for later, drenched in a little sugar and a sprinkling of slaw gin.
Lentils with eggplant and curry leaves
Deep and earthy flavors are here. The dish eats well the day it’s prepared, but somehow even better when put in the fridge overnight. Gently reheat over low heat, stirring regularly. (You may need more broth just to thin the texture.) Some steamed rice, perhaps with a little grated forked zest, would be a great idea. A warm and fragrant dinner that won’t break the bank. 6 services
lentil 150 grams small and brown
leek 4, big
peanut oil 2 tablespoons, plus a little extra for later
Ginger 50 gm fresh
hot red pepper 2, medium size
ground cumin 1 teaspoon
ground coriander 1½ tsp
black mustard seeds 2 teaspoons
turmeric 2 teaspoons
Tomatoes 350 grams
Tomato paste 1 tablespoon
curry leaves 20
garam masala 1 tablespoon
stock or water 1 liter
eggplant 2, medium size
olive oil Little
Wash the lentils in a colander and set aside. Peel the shallot and chop it fine. Heat the oil in a large saucepan, then add the shallots. Cook until soft and pale golden – within 7-10 minutes. Peel and grate the ginger and finely chop the pepper, removing the seeds if desired. Add the ginger and chili to the shallots and continue to cook, then add the cumin, coriander, mustard seeds and turmeric.
Cut the tomatoes into coarse pieces and toss them with the onions, followed by the tomato paste. Continue cooking for 5 minutes, then add the lentils, half of the curry leaves and garam masala. Pour vegetable broth or water. Add salt and let the sauce simmer for 25 minutes, stirring regularly.
Cut the eggplant in half and then into 1 cm thick slices and fry them in a little olive oil, just enough to moisten them. Get a grill pan (or oven-top grill) hot, cook the eggplant slices for 7-8 minutes on each side, then add to the lentils when each piece is softened and lightly colored. Continue cooking until the lentils are cooked through and the eggplant is soft and silky, which takes about 20 minutes.
Fry the reserved curry leaves until crispy in a tablespoon or two of peanut oil in a shallow skillet, then scatter over the top and serve.
figs in gin slaw
Figs take on the silkiest texture when baked. I sometimes cook it in a shallow porcelain dish with fine brown sugar and marsala, or with fresh cream and demerara, but I’ve found a sprinkle of slaw or damask gin more appropriate. The fruit appears, a deep, glowing burgundy. I finished this particular version on the stove, turning the heat to high, to concentrate the cooking juices, so I suggest a flame-resistant roasting plate or baking dish, like one made of stainless steel or enameled cast iron. Serves 4
Figs 6, medium size
golden fine sugar 3 tablespoons
gin slaw 90 ml
Set oven to 200°C/gas mark 6. Cut the figs in half from stem to base and place, just touching them, in a baking dish. Using a vegetable peeler, remove 3 or 4 long pieces of orange peel, then cut in half and juice.
Tuck pieces of orange peel between the figs, sprinkle with sugar and pour in the orange juice and gin slaw. Bake for 30 minutes or until the fruit has softened and is saturated with the gin.
Take the figs out of the oven. Place the baking tray over medium-high heat and let the juices simmer for a few minutes until they have reduced and started to thicken slightly. (Don’t overdo this, you don’t want them to caramelize.)
When the figs are jam-packed, put the figs into cups or bowls and pour the slaw over them.
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