Tuesday, 1 October 2013

And the kitchen sink

When I talk about Tom's cooking, people who understand the autism spectrum are often surprised, because it is typical for ASD people to be fussy eaters.

However, if you actually look into it further, ASD can affect tastes two ways. It either results in very particular food requirements, in not just taste, but in texture and presentation. Or it results in a person who will eat virtually anything that isn't running away. Tom is the latter type.

I think part of it comes from being the 5th of six. In a large family you either grab what's going and eat it, or miss out. It probably also helped that I never had any truck with fussy eaters, not even right at the start of my mothering career. This is dinner and you have two choices. One is hunger. I could go into great detail about that whole attitude (which was coloured partly by low income) but let's just say, I never actually considered the possibility that a child might refuse something. When you approach it that way, your expectations tend to be met.

Not that Tom never had strange eating habits. He was a food thrower. He was also a messy eater. Nobody ever needed to ask what he had had for dinner because it was all down his shirt.

Anyway, fast forward to a 20-year-old Tom and he has learned not to wear his meals. But more importantly he has become an extremely competent cook. This is not at all unusual among Aspies, especially if they DO have strong food preferences. They become adept at making things exactly so. Tom eats anything so his culinary skills are pretty broad. He is famous for his pastry, but he's also very good with seafood.

However what he likes best is Indian food. He will eat curry three times a day, AND snack on it in between. I assume that when (if) he moves out, he'll make a big pot once a week or so and live on it. He could do a lot worse. It's very economical, and perfectly healthy if served with some fresh veggies.

The point here is that curry when cooked by a person of English heritage is not REALLY Indian food. The way I cook curry - the way he learned, the way he likes it - has been filtered through English culture for around 200 years. Today in England recipes by top chefs are re-introducing many of the spices and vegetables we hadn't bothered with (too difficult to obtain, or too expensive) for so long, and it's all become very authentic again, with such a massive import trade from South Asia. These are now trendy not just in Britain but all over the world. Which is great.

But out here in the Canadian countryside, we cook a vaguely Victorian style of curry. You can too. It won't win any awards in posh circles, and cooks in Mumbai would mumble. But it's good, it's easy, and it's economical.

Think of stew. Any stew. A stew you know well, perhaps or one you just made up. You can put anything in it really, but bear in mind this is going to cook quite a long time, so don't use vegetables that are ruined by long cooking. Of course "ruined" is a matter of personal taste. I would not use broccoli or green beans, but your mileage may vary.

Stew is easy, it can be made from leftovers. It doesn't even need meat if you have none or want to avoid it - this is a very good way to make a vegetarian dish.

Not only that, this doesn't need to be hot. You can give it to the youngest child, and add only the merest hint of hot spices (no more than in ketchup) and they will enjoy it. My youngest grandson is a huge curry addict.

So, start your stew, that is, brown the meat and base vegetables, add your long-cook vegetables, and add any combination of:

Tomato juice
Coconut milk

It can be 1/3 of each, or half and half of any two, or whatever ratio you like, but it's best with more than one. Add salt and pepper as required, and a generous amount of garlic. It should already taste good.

Now your spices.

You can buy "curry powder" ready blended, and some of them are perfectly adequate.

BUT. The hot spices (cayenne) are already included. To get more flavour, you have to add more blend, which means you get more heat. You can, if you wish, use curry powder as a "base" and add more individual spices, but if you are doing that, why not just create your own blend?

It is fun, no..it is FUN. Huge fun. A bit of this, a bit of that.

But it can also be intimidating if you haven't done it before.

So here's my "starter" or "beginner" spice blend, which you cannot go wrong with.

You need

3 parts coriander
3 parts cumin
1 part ginger
1 part turmeric

The parts can be teaspoons, tablespoons, or cups. If you use cups you'll make enough to store in a jar for  several meals. Having made up this blend from that ratio, add as much to your stew to give it a lovely rich flavour. Of course, you can add other spices that you like/are familiar with. There are many possibilities. But if you do just these 4 it will taste like curry.

Having done that, NOW add the hot spices, either fresh chilies or cayenne powder, as you wish, and as little or as much as you want. You are complete control of the heat of this dish.

Now simmer it until everything is tender. Add any short-cook vegetable you want at the end (I like to throw peas in) and serve with rice and/or naan bread, or for variety, over a baked potato. \

Mrs Beeton would be proud.


  1. The internet is full of lovely Indian how-to videos, all using spices from scratch! I have a recipe for a red lentil soup I just love, and it is funny. If I deviate from the instructions, it tastes slightly less delicate. I am not normally a slavish follower of recipes. By the way, almost all Indian cooks use twice as much ginger as turmeric. Seems to be the classic ratio. James Barber said it: "If you can cook dry beans you are on your way to being successfully poor." No better way to do that than with Indian cuisine.

  2. It is amazingly economival. I don't like the taste of ginger but I find if I leave it out you can tell something's missing. My ratio achieves whatever is necessary to not taste ginger without losing whatever it offers. Of course you can always add more if you like it. :)