And also all of these places:
And now here I am finally settled in London. I'm going to put my obvious hat on here and tell you that things are very different in London than the way they are in Montreal, or even Toronto. They drive on the wrong side of the road, which means I nearly get killed every time I try and jaywalk because I look the wrong way (speaking of which, jaywalking isn't illegal here?). Lining up (queuing) is a way of life. And just about all vegetables in supermarkets come pre-packaged. Which means that if you are a poor student cooking for yourself, you end up with way more food than you need because it's impossible to buy one or two handfuls of spinach, say, or fewer than 3 zucchini (courgettes). Also, I basically have to speak a different language (hence the translations in brackets), even more so than in Montreal, which is pretty ironic. Almost as ironic as raaaaaiiiiiiiiiiin on your wedding day.
So, what I'm trying to tell you is that the other day found myself (or rather my fridge) with 2 onions, 3 potatoes, 2 tomatoes and 1 bag of spinach all about to go off at the same time because they were all (necessarily) bought at the same time. Well the potatoes and onions weren't about to go off, but I still had them in the cupboard. Also maybe I like to exaggerate a lot.
Also, I had invested a good 10 pounds (my Canadian keyboard doesn't have the pound currency sign and I have been too lazy to look online for the keyboard shortcut for it) in kitting out my spice box (actually a cereal box with one big side artistically cut out of it). So, being in England, the land of the curry (or something), I decided to attempt a saag aloo, or spinach and potato curry.
So here it is.
Saag Aloo A La Zoe
About half a teaspoon each of: coriander seeds, cumin seeds (or a little more than a half tsp of these), kalonji (black onion seeds), black mustard seeds (or a little more). You can find all these at your local Indian grocery store, but check your regular grocery store jic. (That's just in case).
About a quarter tsp of fenugreek (semi-optional, I usually get away without fenugreek, but it does add a really nice flavour, and it was one of the ones i bought). Side note: fenugreek is one of the things in my life that I'm both inexplicably drawn to and repelled by. The way it looks is both appealing and a little revolting to me. The cerebellum is another such thing.
A few shakes of turmeric
Some of those red pepper/chili flakes, or something else to make it hot (chili powder, chopped red hot chili peppers, etc.). My hand slipped when I was pouring them in and I ended up with a lot more than I thought I wanted (maybe a tablespoon and a half? maybe 2?), but it ended up being really nice.
1 onion, chopped into medium-sized pieces
3-4 cloves garlic, minced (or garlic paste)
2 medium potatoes (the waxy kind? I don't know, the ones I used were the kind with the nice soft skin, not the kind with the really dirty skin), chopped into about 1cm cubes
2 medium tomatoes, chopped about the same size as the potatoes. (I just used regular plain old, not fancy plum or anything, but you can use what you like. You could also use canned tomatoes, or, in a real pinch, tomato paste+water. Or just leave them out I guess, but they're really nice. You know what? Just go out and buy some tomatoes, they're good and good for you.)
Most of a bag of spinach, or as much as you want to put in? I don't know how big the bag was, and I've already thrown it out. Sorry.
- So. Get out a big pot with a lid. It doesn't actually have to be too big (you're not making 15 gallons of soup), just big enough. As Elizabeth will tell you, I'm terrible at guessing the right size pot for whatever I'm making and, as usual, I chose too small for this one. Oh well, that's why God invented lids, so you can just squish everything down to fit.
- Put your whole spices (that's everything from coriander to fenugreek) in the pan (with no oil) and put the lid on. Heat on a med-high heat until things start to turn brown and smell really nice and spicy. Actually, scratch that, you won't be able to tell the colour or the smell very well because the lid will be on. Heat on a med-high heat until the mustard seeds start popping (you'll be able to hear it). Remove from heat immediately and (leaving the lid on) set aside until the popping stops. Empty them into your pestle and mortar/spice grinder/deep and narrow bowl with a strong spoon and grind to a sort of powdery consistency (or as close as you can get to powder with a bowl and spoon like I was using without driving yourself crazy). No biggie if there are a few whole seeds still, or even if you can't be bothered to grind them, but it really does make it nicer!
- Side note on spices: it's really best to buy whole spices and toast them and grind them as you need them. If you can't be bothered though, by all means by pre-ground spices, they just don't last as long or taste as fresh. But they do have a time and a place! For reference, you don't usually need to grind mustard seeds, kalonji or a few other spices, but it's easier to do all the spices at once. Coriander I would grind if possible, along with cumin. Fennel too, although not every time. Fenugreek you could probably go either way with.
- Put some vegetable (not olive) oil or butter in the bottom of the (now empty) pan. It should be enough to cover the bottom, plus a tiny little bit extra. Fry the onions on low or medium low (it will depend on your stove) until they're translucent and beginning to get a bit of colour.
- If you like the way garlic tastes (nice and spicy!) when it's almost raw, add it after the potatoes. Otherwise, add it now.
- Add the potato chunks. Stir every so often until they're almost cooked. With mine, they kept sticking to the bottom and making like a crust on the bottom of the pan that was threatening to burn and ruin the whole thing so I took a couple of extra steps: I scraped as much as I could off the bottom with the big spoon, I added a bit more butter and then scraped again and finally I added the tomatoes too early. You could "deglaze" (the technical term!) with a little bit of lemon juice (which I didn't have), but I figured that tomatoes are pretty acidic (right?) so I just used them. Damn! I guess I could just have used the tomato juice and saved the tomato chunks for the right time! Oh well, it wasn't ruined. The important thing, though, is to add whatever you're using to deglaze then scrape like crazy to get all the stuff off the bottom.
- Add the turmeric and chili flakes.
- Add the tomatoes and stir it up to get all the stuff off the bottom.
- Add the spinach on top of everything (don't attempt to stir unless you're certain you can do it without flinging spinach everywhere. I learned that the hard way.) Instead, turn the heat down as far as it will go (or even turn it off) and just push the lid down to steam the spinach on top of the potatoes and tomatoes.
- Keep an eye on it, and when the spinach has wilted enough, give it a good stir and get it all mixed up more or less evenly (can be harder than it sounds).
- Taste it and see if anything needs adjusting. I added a bit of salt to mine, but you might think it needs a bit more heat (chili flakes or black pepper) or more cumin (this is the time and place for that pre-ground cumin!)
- Serve with rice or your choice of Indian breads.
What's that? Why yes, yes that is my very own GAS STOVE. You say you'd like a better picture of it? Of course!