My job occasionally causes me to spend the night away from home. I try to avoid doing this often – once a month is about right for me, as I’m determined not to be a stay-away father through the formative years of my kids’ upbringing, at least not until the inevitable point when they make it clear they would rather I did. Recently, I keep managing to coincide my stopovers near our HQ with nobody else at all, and given that my company’s hotel of choice round these parts is preferred for its location near the office and virtually nothing else, this leads to an amount of time spent in my own company.
Truthfully, I don’t mind this too much. Generally I’m fairly sociable but every now and again, especially if I have a novel on the go, it’s great to work late and then head to the eatery next to the hotel with my book for a pint of Magners and a mixed grill. The kids (not deliberately of course) somewhat limit chances to just sit and read for more than about three and a half minutes, so I make the most of it and use my mobile to stop the book closing while trying not to smear gobbets of grilled meat across the story.
I must admit to being a bit snobbish, and when I discovered that the eatery in question here was a Harvester I was not far short of horrified. Despite this, I was convinced to join a group of colleagues one evening who were enticed by the fact that no driving was required to get there, and discovered, to my slight discomfort, that the food was perfectly edible. Granted, it’s not going to win any Michelin stars, but for a simple, cheap plate of meat and chips at stumbling distance from the hotel, it surprisingly ticks all the boxes. I have not always been so lucky – I’ve had several meals at carveries and other grub pubs over the years which I would be reluctant to feed to my dog, even if I had a dog. (As I’ve plugged the Harvester – albeit with less than fulsome praise – I should also warn you against the perils of the Old Cherry Tree in Southgate, north London, which would win the prize for worst pub food I’ve ever been served, except I couldn’t think of a prize dire enough to do justice to the truly terrible cuisine and appalling service.)
It says a lot about my changing palette that, having this evening devoured parts of no fewer than four dead animals, my overriding feeling is that of looking forward immensely to tomorrow night’s menu at home. We love curry at our house, and we have a handful of varieties on the menu; this one is probably the easiest and thus quickest of the lot, and works just as well with chicken or lamb as with vegetables. It came from a little book called Best of India which has been a godsend over the years, and a number of our favourite dishes have come from its pages.
Sabzi balti, serves 2
- one onion, roughly chopped
- two green chillies (use the bigger ones for bulk, don’t be tempted by the diddy ones)
- juice of a large lemon
- small bunch of fresh coriander (we use the 25g packs from the supermarket as we don’t have a herb garden yet)
- tablespoon of tomato purée
- half teaspoon of turmeric
- two teaspoons of ground coriander
- teaspoon of chilli powder (adjust this to suit your palette)
- pinch of salt
Veg: you can choose whatever you want really, although I am morally opposed to carrots in curries. We tend to use four or five of the following, chopped into bite-sized pieces:
- courgette (half)
- aubergine (half)
- mini corn, a few
- mange touts (we tend to get the little packs of corn and mange touts as we don’t use them much anywhere else)
- broccoli (handful)
- potatoes (precooked – if you make them very soft they can mix with the sauce which dampens down the heat for less fire-proof palettes, we tend not to use them now though)
First chuck all the sauce ingredients into a blender and pulse until you have a coarse paste.
Then fry off the veg in a hot, lightly-oiled wok (normally the corn and aubergine first, followed by the other stuff after a minute or two) for no more than a few minutes, until al dente but browning. Remove from oil and keep on one side.
Add a little more oil and get it nice and hot, then put in the sauce and fry this off for five to six minutes, until you’ve stopped crying. Put the veg back in and stir through, cook for a further minute or so and serve. We usually serve with plain boiled rice; this one doesn’t work so well with naan or other breads as it’s a sticky, sparse sauce rather than an oozy puddle.