Recipe: Nostalgic sweet potato and and spinach curry

I wrote this, minus the recipe, without knowing whether it would be a blog post or a newsletter piece. I don't really know what goes where, and sometimes I don't know what this blog is "for" anymore, when most of my writing is in my newsletter, but sometimes it's nice to still blog.

I started university with a stack of green books, new and shiny with spines intact.
I don't remember buying them, but I'm sure they will have come from my Mum, from Borders, our favourite place, which Google tells me closed in 2009.

I didn't really know how to cook. Until I was 18 my speciality had been a concoction of kidney beans, microwaveable rice and pasta sauce.

I found my feet with those green shiny books.
Lentil bolognese and Quorn cottage pie and vegetable crumble in the days before I even thought to Google a recipe or read a food blog.
Everything was simple, but revolutionary. Lentil moussaka with a topping of cream cheese mixed with eggs and nutmeg. Easy versions of dishes, made cheaper and quicker for the amateur student cook.

And I learned a lot about cooking in those first few years of uni. Discovering why you wash spinach before use, and that bicarbonate of soda isn't the same as baking powder, and is a quick and efficient way to ruin a batch of cookies you've been salivating in anticipation of.
What my books look like now, after years of use and being used to lean on while doing my nails...

Those green shiny books sit in my loft. Piled up ready to go to the charity shop, ready for another student to educate on 15 ways with jacket potatoes, but I'm not quite ready to let go.
No longer shiny, but splattered with years of drips and splotches and spills.
While my shelves groan with the weight of Ottolenghi, and my cupboards fill with fenugreek and sumac and homemade baharat.
And tonight, I pick them up for the taste of nostalgia.

The sweet potato curry I used to make to impress my friends. That I made in a lonely kitchen in student halls, that I made for my housemates when we somehow managed to share the cooking every night for a year, that I made for my American housemate and her husband as a thank you for letting me stay over an alien-to-me Thanksgiving holiday, that I made in Minnesota and New Jersey, and of course, in Birmingham. Frozen in tiny, unidentifiable bags so that dinner was sometimes a surprise.

I've made hundreds of curries since. Dals and vindaloos and homemade samosas. I could make a sweet potato curry with my eyes closed.
But tonight  I turn to the book. Scared to get it wrong. Scared to miss out on the taste of nostalgia.
Remembering it eaten in a large pudding bowl, with carrots and broccoli lazily steamed to mush in the microwave at 9pm after two back-to-back dance classes.
Or splashing out on naan. Covering it in ketchup.

I must have made this curry thirty times. Eaten it sixty times more.
But tonight I make it for my fiancĂ© for the first time. Remembering all the times I made it before. And now making it for my soon-to-be-husband in a house that we own, after getting home from my 9 to 5.
I still love piling in the spinach and watching it wilt into velvet.
I no longer serve it with ketchup, but if I was home alone I would have microwaved the carrots and broccoli to submission, the way I did when I was 22. The way I did when I cried when the microwave broke because that's the only way I knew how to cook my vegetables.

It reminds me that delicious food need not be complicated, something I often forget. That it doesn't need every pan in the house or hours slaving over the stove. That I don't need to make something different every single night. And it tastes every bit as good as it did when I was 18.

Sweet potato and spinach curry
Serves 4
(adapted lightly to maintain as much nostalgia as possible, from The Vegetarian Student Cookbook. I've made this so many times this is more like a guide, and I was surprised how much of it was muscle memory, so I don't know quite how much olive oil I used or how long I cooked my onions for, but if you're any more advanced than 18 year old me in the kitchen you'll figure it out)
500g sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into large chunks
1 tbsp olive oil
1 red onion, chopped
2 garlic cloves, pressed
1 tsp turmeric
1 large red chilli
400ml (1 can) coconut milk
250g baby spinach, washed
salt and pepper to taste

1. Cook sweet potatoes in a large pan of boiling water for 8-10 minutes until cooked but not mushy. Drain and leave to the side.
2. Heat the oil in large pan, and cook the onions on a medium heat until soft and translucent. Add the garlic and chilli, and cook for a couple of minutes before adding the turmeric.
3. Add the coconut milk, stir well and simmer for 3-4 minutes until thickened
4. Add the cooked sweet potatoes and cook for a further 4 minutes
5. Stir in the spinach, and cook, stirring regularly, until it has all wilted
6. Season and serve!


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