In which my children go vegetarian

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OK so that title may be a little misleading. It was only the one meal, but but but, my little carnivores CHOSE the vegetarian option of their own volition. There was no coaxing, cajoling or hiding of vegetables. Nor was this pasta, lightly doused in a tomato or pesto sauce, nor a margarita pizza, because they don’t count. No, this was a curry with actual, discernible chunks of real vegetable – sweet potato, cauliflower, spinach, chickpeas to name but a few – and they LOVED it (sorry you can tell I’m a little over-excited). Even The Husband said it was ‘quite nice actually’. High praise indeed from someone who believes a meal without meat falls into the same category as soup, ie. does not constitute a ‘proper’ feed.

The secret? Shop-bought curry paste. I had never thought to use commercial curry pastes before because I am a snob I thought it to be a bit cheaty, but then Mr Oliver said it was fine to do so in his new five ingredient cookbook and who am I to argue? I now have a range of them in my cupboard and my curries have never been quicker nor (I’m loath to admit) better, so good in fact that no one seems bothered if none of the ingredients ever had a pulse. These pastes provide a depth of flavour that could only otherwise be achieved by hours of measuring, toasting, grinding, grating chopping, crushing and swearing* and because the good quality ones such as Patak’s contain zero nasties, there is no processed flavour to betray your lack of effort.

*Obviously no one needs to know that you haven’t spent hours doing this even though you have in fact been hiding in your kitchen with the iPad catching up on the latest episode of SAS: Who Dares Wins.

Sweet potato, cauliflower, chickpea and spinach curry

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Different pastes have different flavour profiles and levels of heat so give them a try and see which you prefer. I like to use tikka paste for smothering over chicken (à la Jamie) or root vegetables before roasting, the rogan josh obviously works well with lamb but also with Mediterranean veg and for this curry, I use madras because its heat works well with the sweetness of the potato (and also because the kids worry less about it not containing meat when their mouths are on fire).

I like to roast the sweet potato and cauliflower in the oven for 40 mins as this gives a better flavour and texture to the end dish, but if you can’t be fagged it won’t be the end of the world.

Yes those are bhajis in the picture (onion and cauliflower) but I am in the process of tweaking the recipe so will let you have this next time.

Serves 4-6

  • 1 heaped tbsp coconut oil plus extra if you choose to roast the potatoes and cauli first
  • 1 medium onion, finely chopped
  • 1 thumb sized piece of ginger, peeled and finely chopped
  • 3-4 garlic cloves, finely chopped or crushed
  • 2 medium sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into 2cm cubes
  • 1/2 head of cauliflower broken into small florets
  • 400g tin of chickpeas, drained
  • 75g red lentils
  • 2 heaped tbsp Patak’s madras curry paste (not sauce)
  • 1 heaped tbsp tomato puree
  • 400g tin coconut milk + tinful of boiling water
  • 1 vegetable stock cube dissolved in above boiling water
  • 125g spinach (I used frozen)
  • squeeze of lemon juice, salt and chopped coriander to finish, maybe some toasted flaked almonds if you’re feeling fancy
  • mint yogurt to serve
  1. If you have the time and inclination, roast the sweet potato and cauliflower with a little salt in a couple of tablespoons of coconut (or veg) oil at 200ºC for around 40 mins until they start to caramelise.
  2. Heat the coconut oil in a large saucepan and gently fry the onion for about 10 minutes until translucent and softened. Add the ginger and garlic and cook for another minute.
  3. Add the curry and tomato pastes and cook while stirring for another couple of minutes, then add all the vegetables including the sweet potato and cauli, the coconut milk, water and stock. Bring to the boil and then reduce to a simmer for about 30 minutes. The lentils should have cooked down and thickened the sauce. If it’s too thick add a little more water.
  4. Add the spinach straight from the freezer – it will take about 5 minutes to defrost and heat through. Or stir through fresh spinach a minute or two before serving, until it is just wilted.
  5. Taste and season with salt and lemon juice, then sprinkle over a handful of chopped coriander.
  6. To make the mint yogurt, blend a handful of fresh mint leaves with 200g natural Greek yogurt (or use a dairy free alternative to keep things vegan), then stir in a squeeze of lemon, a pinch of salt and a pinch of caster sugar to taste.

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