A treasure trove of aromatics

Photo: Getty Images
Photo: Getty Images
Chickpeas can be transformed with a lump of ginger, red chillies and lemon grass. So keep a treasure trove of aromatics in the fridge writes Nigel Slater.

Near the bottom of the fridge there’s a white enamel box in which I keep a squirrel-store of aromatics and flavourings: a knobbly hand of ginger, a few green or red chillies, a jagged lump of Parmesan rind and the occasional bunch of thyme or rosemary.

Its contents are never guaranteed, but there is usually something with which to perk up a soup or a bowl of pasta. There are often a few sticks of lemon grass or a twig of green peppercorns, and occasionally there's a lime or two, though not today. Its contents are somewhat hit and miss, but I think of it as a little box of treasure.

This somewhat random store of flavourings often gets me out of a fix when I have been less than thorough with the shopping list. It also comes in especially handy on those days when there is snow or torrential rain, when there is little choice but to make dinner out of whatever happens to be in the cupboard. Not that I have ever kept a particularly well-stocked larder. Sure, I can't remember the last time I was caught without a lemon, a packet of pasta and a bottle of olive oil, but I know very well that I should also have something a little more exciting in stock, too.

In theory, my store cupboard is pretty full. But what appears, at a glance, to be a set of bulging shelves turns out to be anything but. Instead of the wherewithal to make an impromptu dinner, my squirrel store turns out to consist of everything from cocoa powder to fish sauce, but nothing much in between. I have had to make dinner from a couple of cans of beans and the odd pinch of dried spices before now. And yet these panic meals can sometimes turn out to be the most delicious of all, tinged as they are with the glow of having made something from nothing. An onion, a can of chickpeas and another of tomatoes has been a fair enough dinner, but more so if I let the ingredients cook slowly and have a clove of garlic or two around to cheer things up a bit. Last time I was this low I sliced an onion and a couple of cloves of garlic then let them slowly soften and sweeten in a drop of olive oil, drained the chickpeas, tipped them into a baking dish with the onion and added the canned tomatoes, a little dried thyme and a dribble of balsamic vinegar. They went into the oven and bubbled away slowly for an hour or more. I have had worse dinners that cost 20 times the price.

Dried beans have got me out of many an embarrassment, too, as has a lump of Parmesan and a packet of polenta. But with just a little forethought (for which read a few dried mushrooms, some herbes de Provence, a lump of pancetta, a length of chorizo, a can of coconut cream or a few dried aubergines) and it might not be so obvious that the week's dinner was knocked up from emergency rations. It doesn't take much space or money to keep a few long-life goodies around to inject a bit of interest into cupboard staples. That's why my little box of flavourings gets a permanent place in my fridge.

Coconut chickpea curry

Photo: Getty Images
Photo: Getty Images
More like a main course soup than a traditional curry, this dish, with its lemongrass and ginger is both fresh and invigorating. You don't have to put the coriander in, but I like to think of it as a knee-jerk partner for anything involving coconut. If you use canned chickpeas, you will need 3 x 400g cans and you should add them once the sauce is made. Serve in soup bowls.

Serves 6 with rice or bread

500g dried chickpeas

3 medium onions

2 tbsp peanut oil

750g vegetable stock

1 small tin of coconut cream (160ml)

half a bunch of coriander

For the spice paste:

2 or 3 large cloves of garlic

75g fresh ginger

half a bunch of coriander, stalks and leaves

75g lemongrass

2 hot green chillies


Soak the chickpeas overnight in cold water.

Drain them, tip into a large, deep saucepan and cover with water. Bring to the boil, then turn the heat down, cover partly with a lid and leave the chickpeas to simmer enthusiastically for an hour or so till tender. It is worth checking the water level from time to time. Drain.

Peel the onions, roughly chop them, then put them in a Iarge, deep pan with the peanut oil and let them soften for 10-15 minutes or so over a low to moderate heat. Stir occasionally so they do not colour.

Make the spice paste. Peel the garlic, roughly chop it, and put it into the bowl of a food processor. Peel the ginger and add to the garlic with the coriander stalks and leaves. Peel off and discard the outer leaves of the lemongrass. Chop the more tender inside leaves and add to the rest of the spice paste ingredients with the chillies (seeded if you wish). Blitz to a coarse paste.

Add the spice paste to the softened onions and fry briefly. Pour in the stock, tip in the chickpeas and simmer for 15-20 minutes. Remove about a third of the mixture and blitz in a food processor. Tip back into the pan and stir. Stir in the coconut cream, add the coriander and leave to simmer for a few minutes before serving in bowls.

 — Guardian News and Media

Add a Comment