Victorian Curry

I really enjoy trying recipes that are not only new to me, but ones that are actually quite old. My collection of vintage cookbooks is slowly growing, one thrift store, garage sale, and used book sale at a time. But that’s not the only place that historic recipes can be found. YouTube is a great resource, and I love to have it playing in the background while I’m cooking, giving me ideas for my next meal. That’s how I came across the English Heritage channel, and How to Make Curry — The Victorian Way.

If you visit the actual video on YouTube, the written recipe can be found in the video description.

Now, of course this is English curry from the 1800’s, not authentic Indian dish at all. The ingredients are ones that were possibly to obtain locally or ones that were fairly easy to import; this was generally a dish served to the burgeoning middle class at the time, and the most expensive imports just didn’t make it that far down the social ladder. However, an English soldier or merchant who’d had a chance to try authentic Indian food — and liked it — would probably like something like this dish when they returned home.

I tried making Victorian-style curry for dinner last night, and I’m happy to say that it went pretty well. The recipe breaks down the components of their curry powder, but not the quantities of each spice, so I had to make an educated guess. I put in:

7g turmeric
5g ground ginger
3g white pepper
3g ground cardamom
5g ground coriander
2g cayenne pepper

This ended up being a pretty hot curry, at least to my kids’ tastes (my husband and I actually enjoyed the burn). I think next time I make it I might halve the amount of cayenne pepper, or even quarter it — which may lead to some difficulties in measurement because my scale isn’t sensitive enough to read weight under a gram. Perhaps I need another, more precise scale?

I was pleasantly surprised by the combination of ingredients in this recipe. As the video suggests, I included two chopped shallots and three diced cloves of garlic, since unlike Lord and Lady Braybrooke, I like both. I thought that the five (five!) onions would make it taste too much of onions, but it really didn’t. I couldn’t taste the cucumber at all, though I suspect that it played a part in thickening the sauce (and adding vegetables to a recipe rarely makes it less healthy). The apple was a nice, sweet touch. I did appreciate that this dish is dairy-free without having to make any changes. I’ve found that many curries, at least the ones made in North America and Europe, use cream or coconut milk to thicken the sauce. I have no idea whatsoever if this is also true of authentic Indian dishes, but I’ve never claimed to be an expert on such things. Not having to alter the dish in this respect was a nice change.

I’m hoping to make up some mince pies and gingerbread the Victorian way for the upcoming holiday season. I also have yet to try anything from my English 18th Century Cookery book, so that’s up there on my list. I’m also looking forward to trying a few of the recipes from my recently-acquired The Tudor Kitchens Cookery Book: Hampton Court Palace book, which I found at a local thrift store. This book has both original and modern interpretations of recipes originally from 1485 to 1603, so it should be a little bit easier to follow than those from 18th Century.

Chichen & Roast Vegetables Curry for Family Guests

Last night I had family guests over for dinner. I find that my guests can be divided into two basic categories: formal and family. Formal visitors are generally people I don’t know very well and with whom I am still trying to make a good impression. When they visit, I stress that my house is not neat and tidy enough, that my decor is not fancy enough, that my food is not tasty enough, and that my children are too noisy (unless they bring their own children along, which mitigates this factor). I spend hours or days making everything as perfectly prepped as possible before they come over, and I still worry that it is not enough.

Family guests include actual family and friends that I’ve known for long enough that they might as well be family. They have seen me at my best and at my worst, and they know that for the most part I am somewhere in between these two extremes. They are the people that would I welcome into my home without advance notice; in fact, I welcome them to drop by any time. So while I may not have a three course meal prepped for them and my house will be cluttered with the day-to-day mess of living, we do end up seeing much more of each other. Formal visitors can transition into family guests over time. It’s part of the process of friendship to me.

Last night’s dinner was one for family guests. The people visiting me were my parents, with whom I have a very close relationship, and a friend of the family who is an honorary aunt. She’s in no way related to me by blood or marriage, but she’s actually closer to me than a number of my actual relatives. This woman has known me since the day I was born; actually, she posed as my mother’s sister in order to visit us in the maternity ward and actually met me before my grandparents did. She changed my diapers and rocked me to sleep when I was colicky as an infant. At six years old, I was literally the only child allowed at her wedding. The idea of being formal with her is kind of absurd.

The seven of us crowded around my kitchen table (which doesn’t seem small when it’s just the four of us, but I am quickly reminded of the true size of my dining area when we have guests). I served a hearty, healthy meal based predominantly on my Thai Coconut Curry recipe, but as usual I changed things up a bit. I didn’t have any bok choy, so that got left out. I traded shrimp for chopped chicken thighs, added chopped garlic, and I served it over rice instead of noodles. Most notably for the flavour, I didn’t use curry paste, I just sprinkled in mild curry powder to taste. My parents don’t have the taste for any spice whatsoever, so the mildest way to go was the best in this situation. So I guess it wasn’t really all that similar to the original recipe, but the technique I used was the same.

I served the curry with some bread machine Whole Wheat Bread (page 15, The Complete Guide to Bread Mahcine Baking, Better Homes and Gardens (1999)). We sat around the kitchen table, stuffed our faces, caught up with the things we’d done since we’d last met, and regaled each other with stories of days gone by. It was a lovely way to spend an evening.

Thai Chicken Coconut Curry

Last night I wanted to make a healthy and easy meal, so I went back to the Thai Coconut Curry Recipe and worked with what I had in the fridge and pantry. I used Blue Dragon Thai Red Curry Paste again, since I still had about 2/3 of a jar left in the fridge. As protein, I used chicken thighs, which I had bought in quantity a few days before due to a fantastic deal at the grocery store. For the veggies I used yellow zucchini, green zucchini, and garlic scapes, all of which are in season locally. Like with my Indian coconut curry (which in retrospect this version of the dish looks an awful lot like), I was running short on time, so I cooked the veggies on the stove. I also served it on rice.

The dish was very tasty, and my whole family ate it, which satisfies my most stringent criteria when it comes to cooking. Also, anything with that many veggies incorporated into it is better for both the health and the digestion. However, I think if I want a more attractively-coloured final product, I’ll have to make the time to roast the veggies. They seem to keep their original colour much better when roasted. Also, chicken and rice aren’t nearly as visually appealing on a plate as shrimp and egg noodles. Even so, this meal remains very versatile and super-easy to make, so I’ll probably keep making it regularly — with infinite variations, of course.

Indian Coconut Curry

Last night I decided to make coconut curry again, but with a more Indian flavour. The one that I made previously was more of a Thai dish (although certainly not an authentic one), mostly because I used Blue Dragon Thai Red Curry Paste. This time I used Pataks Mild Curry Paste; the company specializes in flavours originating in India.

As is probably evident from the picture, I made a few more changes, based mostly on what was in my fridge and pantry. I replaced the carrots with mushrooms, I switched the shrimp for chopped chicken breast, and I served the dish over rice instead of with noodles. Also notably, I ran out of time to roast the vegetables in the oven (which takes about an hour), so I cooked them up in a frying pan on the stove with the chicken once it was sealed. I also needed to boil down the sauce a bit once I added the curry paste and the light coconut milk because the veggies were more steamed than anything else and hence added a lot of moisture.

So I made a tonne of changes, but the dish still turned out successfully. This all goes to show how much you can mess with this recipe and still have great results! My kids ate all the food on their plates and then came back for seconds, which is how I rate dinner success in our house. Also, they ate all of their veggies without complaining, which is a huge win. Thank you, Brothers Green Eats, for introducing me to this dish!

Thai Coconut Curry Recipe

I’m trying to broaden my culinary horizons further, not only because I love eating new things, but also because I get bored of cooking the same things all the time. To that end, I’ve been perusing cookbooks and browsing YouTube cooking videos to find inspiration. One of the channels that I discovered was Brothers Green Eats (and I say I discovered because they’ve been posting cooking videos for about four years, but they’re new to me). I’ve really been enjoying working my way through their videos, and they’ve given me some great ideas.

This past Saturday I cooked up some coconut curry based on their Cooking “Cheat Codes” – Make Anything Taste Delicious tutorial, with the relevant bits about curry paste and coconut milk starting at about the 5:00 mark). This recipe is customized according to the ingredients that were available locally and seasonally, as well as to suit the tastes and dietary issues of my family. However, it is a very flexible technique that can be used with a wide variety of ingredients. You don’t have to use the brands that I did, either, but I thought it was necessary to note what worked well for me. This dish is dairy-free, and can easily be made vegetarian or vegan by omitting the meat; since it’s added more or less at the last step, the meat doesn’t have a huge amount to do with the development of the flavour. I should note right now that the curry paste that I used is not vegetarian or vegan, but I’m sure you could find one that is, or make one of your own to suit your personal dietary requirements.

I have a feeling that I will be making this recipe over and over again — especially since there are almost infinite variations available.

Thai Coconut Curry
Serves 4-6

Preheat oven to 350°F (175°C).
Please note: weight measurements for the vegetables in this recipe are taken after peeling and removing inedible portions like leaves and stems.
Wash and slice:
1 small onion (60g (2oz))
1 small yellow zucchini (200g (7oz))
1 small green zucchini (200g (7oz))
2 medium carrots (200g (7oz))
1 small eggplant (200g (7oz))
On a baking sheet, spread evenly:
2 Tbsp olive oil
1/4 tsp salt
1/8 tsp pepper
Add the sliced vegetables to the baking sheet. Mix them by hand or with a spatula until the vegetables are evenly coated with the oil and spice mixture.
Roast the vegetables in the oven at 350°F (175°C) for between 40 and 60 minutes, turning the veggies in the pan halfway through that time. The vegetables are done when they are tender but before they start to fall apart.
In the last 20 minutes or so of the roast vegetables’ cooking time, steam and drain:
150g (5.25oz) chopped baby bok choy
According to the package directions, cook until al dente and drain:
340g (12oz) medium egg noodles
In a large, deep, non-stick frying pan or non-stick wok, heat on medium heat:
1 Tbsp olive oil
Add to the oil:
3 Tbsp Blue Dragon Thai Red Curry Paste*
Cook for 1 minute, stirring regularly to prevent burning and sticking.
Add to the pan:
one 398mL (13.5fl oz) can A Taste of Thai Lite Coconut Milk
Stir until ingredients in pan smoothly combined.
Add the roast vegetables, baby bok choy, and medium egg noodles to the pan. Stir until all solid ingredients are evenly coated. Add to the pan:
250g (9oz) peeled, cooked shrimp**
Stir until ingredients are heated and coated evenly.
Serve, optionally topping each dish with:
a sprinkle of toasted sesame seeds

* Or curry paste of your choice.
**Or an equal amount of cooked chicken chopped into bite-sized pieces.