Food has the power to transport us through time and space. Something about a certain magical combination of aroma and flavour stirs my usually poor recollection into technicolour overdrive. So many of my memories are intrinsically tied to food and meals gone by. This vegan mince and potato curry has just such an effect. One spoonful and I find myself back to my childhood roots in our kitchen in one of the poorest inner city suburbs of Leeds. My mother, usually in her element, is nervously fluttering around whilst Babuji Parmar rolls up his dress shirt sleeves and heats the oil in her precious wok to blistering. Her 1st lesson in Indian cooking has begun.
It was always a standing joke in our family that I was weaned on curry. My mams cravings for spicy foods grew in direct proportion to me, inside her swollen pregnant belly. There was always a mixture of excitement and trepidation when our neighbours, the Parmars, would send over a steaming hot dish, draped with a stained teatowel emanating smells and spices a literal world away from our everyday eats.
I remember peas and potatoes, swimming in fragrant gravy. The aroma as the towel was lifted to reveal what bubbled beneath. The sting, in the throat and the eyes of that first spoonful of fire water. The way my father would portion out teaspoons of the fluffy potatoes into side bowls for me and my sister whilst he mopped his slowly reddening brow and worked his way through the main dish.
Now I would never presume that my recipe is anything close to what was generously shared, from their house to ours all those years ago. It’s more of a nod and a wink not only to a time and a place but to a feeling, of being home. The most important part of this for me was getting the potatoes to absorb the spicy liquid right to their core, without falling apart into nothingness. About halfway through this recipe I can guarantee you’ll doubt me and start to convince yourself those potatoes are never going to cook. Faith and a tight-fitting lid will see you right.
Ritual: Slow Cooked
Character: Spicy and Fragrant
Essence: Indian/Vegan Fusion
White Potatoes - 800g - Peeled and diced into small cubes
Carrots - 300g - Peeled and diced into small cubes
Red Onions - 300g - Diced
Mixed Bell Peppers - 300g - Diced
Green Beans - 200g - Topped and Chopped
Peas - 200g (Frozen weight)
6 Garlic Cloves - Sliced and chopped
Vegan Mince Chunks - 450g - My preferred brand is Tesco frozen soya mince
1/2 Litre of Hot Water or Hot Veg Stock
2 Tins Peeled Plum Tomatoes - 800g
Vegan Natural Yoghurt - 200g
4Tbsp Tomato Puree
2 Veg Stock Cubes
Turmeric Powder - 1tsp
Smoked Paprika - 1/4 tsp
Cayenne Pepper - 1/4 tsp
Dry Toasted Spices
2 tsps Whole Coriander Seeds
1 tsp Whole Black peppercorns
1/2 tsp Whole Fennel Seeds
1/2 tsp Whole Cumin Seeds
If you don't have the time, inclination or budget for buying and preparing these spices seperately then omit this step and replace with 1Tbsp high quality shop bought Garam Masala powder.
Hot Oil Spices
6 Cardamom Pods
2 Star Anise Pods
1/2 Cinnamon Stick
Dry Toasted Spices
Skip this stage if you are using shop bought Garam Masala powder.
In a dry pan toast the peppercorns and coriander seeds on a low heat for one minute.
Add the fennel and cumin seeds and continue to toast for 30 seconds, stirring and swirling the pan to avoid burning.
Remove from the heat and crush the warm spices in a pestle and mortar until reduced to a fine powder.
Set aside until the recipe calls for the dry toasted spices.
Vegan Mince and Potato Curry
Prep, Chop and weigh everything. Have all the ingredients laid out, ready to hand. Taking 10 minutes to do this now saves lots of time and stress during cooking.
Heat a deep, heavy bottom pan on a medium heat and once hot add the oil and swirl to coat the pan. Carefully add the cinnamon sticks, star anise and cardamom pods to the hot oil. Stir fry for 1 minute.
Add the onions into the fragrant oil, stirring well to coat and fry for 10 minutes. Stir frequently until beginning to colour.
Add potatoes, carrots and garlic to the pan and stir well. Once combined add the toasted dry spice mix, turmeric, cayenne pepper, smoked paprika and the crumbled stock cubes. Stir frequently and reduce the heat if the spices begin to catch.
After 5 minutes add the peppers. Stir thoroughly and continue to fry for a further 5 minutes.
Boil 1/2 litre of water in the kettle and add to the pot with the tinned tomatoes, tomato puree and green beans. Stir well and fast simmer with the lid on for 45 minutes or until the potatoes are cooked through. Stir briskly every 5 minutes or so trying to minimise the length of time the lid is removed.
At this point I prefer to remove the hard spices with a slotted spoon but it's a bit of a pain and not really necessary. I keep telling myself I'll buy some muslin spice bags to make this stage easier but I never get around to it 🙂
Reduce the heat to low and add the mince and peas. Slow simmer with the lid removed for another 15 minutes.
Turn off the heat and stir through the yoghurt. Serve sprinkled with chopped pistachio and basmati rice, pitta bread or chapati.
I always make enough for 2 days as the flavours and spices develop and deepen overnight.
What flavours transport you home? Share your story in the comments below.