|Variety is the spice of life|
By all accounts, my dear ol' parents are about to embark on a Spring cleaning crusade throughout the house, starting with clearing out their creaking loft. I know this because when I visited them at the weekend they announced that once all the tuut* was down, I had a week or so to reclaim any prized Prince vinyl or Kylie Minogue posters. After that, everything was destined for either the dump or for eBay and knowing how ambivalent they've been in the past, I better get back over there pronto. Because the last time they did this, Mum took all my shiny 1980's Star Wars toys, complete with boxes, and sold them for 20 quid at a car boot sale. Oh the horror.
Strangely, given that my parents are so unflinching and unscrupulous when it comes to these things, there are some items of precious that they will hold onto steadfastly, like condiments and spices. Again, pointing towards my mother, she loathes to let go of anything from her store cupboard. "Don't chuck that musty jar of dried thyme! There's life in it yet!" she'll often say. Apparently the other day Dad found some Coleman's English mustard powder where the use-by date of April 1988 was stuck on the bottom of the tin. As he tried to discreetly stow it away into the bin, Mum spotted what he was up to and leapt onto his back and started clawing and wailing like a banshee. He said it took him nearly half an hour to shift her before he could lock her in the bathroom and call the police.
OK, maybe that didn't happen but Dad has made some repairs to their kitchen and repainted it recently, so that's why my suspicions are raised.
Coming back to the matter of hoarding spices and herbs and such, I do think we are all guilty to a certain extent of holding onto those little jars for too long. My spice cupboard for instance should be a treasure trove to dip into; an Aladdin's cave of fragrance and colour to inspire and create. Yet in reality, it is a narrow crowded prison where a certain pecking order dictates. New inmates at the front beam outwards for a while but slowly and surely they soon get pushed to the back, towards a dark tomb, full of half-empty duplicates and stale, forgotten souls. It's a sad state of affairs really.
However, I have just discovered a new way of storing spices which comes in the round shape of a Masala Dabba. Now you may well be rolling your eyes at this point, scoffing at the mere suggestion that using a circular tin to contain your turmeric, cumin and mustard seed etc all altogether, yet in separate pots is something ground breaking and new. Especially if you are Asian (though not necessarily). But I have arrived late to the party this time around and having been sent one from The Spice Kitchen to try, along with some very fresh and aromatic spices, the application of keeping a Dabba by your cooker has been revelatory.
I like to make curry but I don't do it that often, perhaps once a fortnight and there are times when I've submitted to the shameful twist of a lid and the dumping of some gloop onto slices of onion and pieces of chicken. Lazy, bad Food Urchin. And when I go all out for the authentic approach, the aforementioned narrow spice cupboard gets a cursory fumble and then bang, off I go, down to the shops to buy stuff that I probably already have. Lazy, bad, wasteful Food Urchin. Of course the beauty of using a Masala Dabba is that you generally keep all your constitutive ingredients in one place. Very handy that and as long as you can remember what is what, the possibilities for experimentation are endless. A teaspoon here, a teaspoon there, shades of this, shades of that, well it's almost like painting. Although in my opinion too much chilli will almost definitely spoil your canvass. Most importantly, you can keep an easy eye on stock levels and cut down on those furtive supermarket raids and accumulation of jars. So what a lovely and simple piece of ancient cooking kit this is indeed.
For a first run out with my new found friend, I used a basic curry marinade recipe as suggested by the good folks from The Spice Kitchen (who are based in Birmingham by the way) and as it was a corker, I am sure they won't mind me re-posting. I particularly liked the addition of tamarind as it lent lovely notes of sour and sweet to the mix, reminding me of rendang curries from the past. I do think the chosen meat of Blackface mutton from Turner and George also made a difference to the overall flavour. It was strong but after a nice long, slow braise was so so good and tender and complimented the spices perfectly.
If I did have one little whinge about using a Masala Dabba, it would be this, the lid on my Dabba takes the strength of ten thousand men to prise it off. Whether this will loosen in time or whether this is deliberate to keep the spices within air tight, thus extending their lifespan, is beyond me. But if these hands, these grubby gorilla hands always have to ache after using this ingenious little device, I could eventually get fed up with the pain and the Dabba may well get stuffed into the tiny cupboard with the rest of the jars.
But in all honesty, I doubt it. It won't fit for a start.
|Dabblin' with me Dabba and marinatin' me mutton|
The Spice Kitchen Basic Curry Marinade
This versatile mixture works both as a curry paste and marinade ideal for making a tasty dish with the meat, fish or vegetables of your choosing. If you plan to marinate chicken, pork, lamb, or beef, let it soak overnight; with fish, 3 hours will more than suffice. The amount this recipe yields is ample for marinating 500 – 750g of meat, fish or veg.
1 red pepper OR 10g tomato puree
50ml plain yoghurt
1 tsp salt
3 cloves garlic
30g fresh ginger
1 tsp Spice Kitchen turmeric
Bunch fresh coriander (leaves & stems)
1 large fresh red chilli pepper, de-seeded OR 1 tbsp Spice Kitchen chilli powder (adjust amount to taste)
1 tsp Spice Kitchen garam masala
2 tbsp honey OR tamarind paste
.(Alternatively, chop all whole ingredients as finely as possible and mix together with the remaining items, or pound in a pestle and mortar.)
|Lovely, tasty, succulent, meaty, brown curry|