This is what I call a brilliant recipe, although my mum would raise her eyebrows in astonishment that I would use such an epithet. She, like many mums, and certainly those I aspire to being like, just sort of made this up based on what we usually had in the fridge, using the style of cooking with which she was brought up. It's a dish similar to one my great-grandmother used to make.
Like most of my mum’s “recipes”, my versions will never be *quite* as good as hers. It’s like I’m trying too hard, whereas she's casually bunging leftovers in the pan and creating delightful dishes without really meaning to. When we were kids we would stand in front of the stove and eat it out of the pot until it was half finished before it reached our plates, so moreish did we find it. The enthusiasm to follow stems from this.
The simplicity is remarkable. It's delicious as it is, and you must resist the temptation to complicate it. For my mum, it’s a two veg recipe – courgettes and potatoes. I am a big fan of both, but because of my compulsion to stuff as many veg as I can into things, I variously add cauliflower, spinach, okra and sometimes even chickpeas (not a vegetable, I know). I always add leafy green veg to things which will accommodate them, because they are light in taste and don’t affect the overall effect, and I am on a mission to eat as many as possible, but without having to make green smoothies, which seem to upset my stomach.
I asked Andy to take a photo of the veg, by the way, and this is what I got. I like it, but it wasn't what I had in mind.
This is a great base. You can pretty much add whatever you like, but I think the beauty is in the simplicity – additional greens notwithstanding.
A few things are key:
to try and chop the potatoes and courgettes to about the same dimensions
to cook it very slowly
to ensure a 2:1 water to oil ratio
to add the turmeric at the beginning, and the cumin at the end
I don’t know why. That’s just what my mum told me, and when I didn’t listen, it didn’t work. One thing that can happen if you go too far or too fast is that it all turns to fluorescent mush. Not that it matters that much – it still tastes wonderful. But if you want discernible veg, don’t cut them too small so they don’t disintegrate.
My mum insists that this dish is best when you turn the heat off when the potatoes are not quite done, and then finish it off in the oven for ten minutes, on a low heat. I usually don't, but I'm not sure why it is that I don't follow her explicit advice and then wonder why mine is never quite as good.
Here's my photo of the veg. Less inventive, and a bit more contrived in a different way.
This is really a side dish, like saag aloo. You can eat it with fish to make it into a well-rounded meal, or even just put some white fish straight in and make it into a fish curry. And then you have it with some rice, ideally jasmine, I think. It doesn’t need soaking and cooks very fast. I recommend a spoonful of coconut oil in it once it’s cooked. The leftovers make a fabulous soup too.
The genius is that the main spice is turmeric, which is well-known and widely used for its potent anti-inflammatory properties. Less well-known is that turmeric is most optimally absorbed with fat, and even better with black pepper – about twenty-fold, reportedly. The oil and seasoning of this recipe make this an anti-inflammatory powerhouse. If you substitute sweet potato for the regular potato, thereby removing the nightshade element (potentially inflammatory for some) it’s even better.
We eat a lot of sweet potatoes – and parsnips – because I try to avoid potatoes when possible. It's half-hearted, but I do what I can anyway, as my attempts to figure out if they disagree with me are inconclusive. It’s very difficult because they are so ubiquitous (as I discovered when trying the AIP diet which excludes all nightshades – there is potato starch is a remarkable number of things, like gluten-free everything for example). I adore potatoes, as most of us do, but there's no escaping that they contain a toxic compound, so I just want to limit how much accumulates in my body.
I recently discovered a different type of sweet potato from the orange-fleshed ones we usually buy. I think it’s called a kumara. It has bright purple skin and a white inside, and it is a revelation. I buy them from an Asian shop near my work, as I've never seen them in the supermarket. I really prefer them for something like this. It is in fact altogether a different vegetable. Less sweet – they wouldn’t caramelise when roasted – with a softer texture than a regular sweet potato, like a very tender parsnip. I highly recommend them if you’ve never tried them.
This recipe is low FODMAP when made sans cauliflower or chickpeas, which, for those of us in constant digestive distress, is an invaluable plus point.
Serves 6, or some for the freezer
2 large sweet potatoes, but not the orange-flesh ones, or 4-6 medium white potatoes, peeled and chopped into large chunks
2-3 largish courgettes
about 200g of spinach or chard, loosely torn
2 tablespoons of turmeric powder
2 teaspoons of cumin powder
optional extras: cauliflower, in florets
can of chickpeas, drained
okra, chopped in large chunks
salt and pepper
1 cup of light olive oil – don’t use extra virgin
1 tablespoon of coconut oil for the rice, optional but delicious
jasmine rice, about a quarter cup per person, half a cup for hungry person
1. Chop the veg to about the same size chunks – about an inch thick.
2. Place the courgettes and potatoes in a large heavy-based pan, as wide as possible, so the veg don’t crowd each other. Sprinkle over the turmeric.
3. Now boil the kettle and measure out cups of water, pouring them into the pan until you have liquid about half of the way up the level of the veg. Then add the olive oil, making sure to maintain a 2:1 water to oil ratio.
4. Turn up the heat and bring to a decent simmer for about 2 minutes, then turn the heat down to minimum and cover. Leave to cook for about fifteen minutes, then uncover, and continue to cook on very low for another fifteen minutes or so, or until the potatoes are soft but not falling apart. Season with salt and pepper, and add the cumin and stir in gently. Then add the greens, cover and leave to rest for five minutes.
5. Prepare the rice by rinsing well under the cold tap, then cook until soft but not mushy, about 10 minutes. Drain, rinse with boiling water from the kettle, and put back in the pan with a tablespoon of coconut oil. Mix and cover for a few minutes, then serve with a large spoonful of the curry on top, and if you like, some greek or natural yoghurt.