Boxing Clever Way to Spice up Your Cooking – The terms ‘street food’ and ‘vegan’ are both relatively new to our everyday culinary vocabulary. It’s long been the case that much Indian food has been vegetarian (in fact I often enjoy the vegetable side dishes more than a meaty main course from an Indian restaurant menu). This week sees the publication of a great new debut cookbook – SpiceBox – that’s packed with plant-powered curry house favourites that are easy to prepare, and just a good for a quick midweek supper or a weekend feast with friends (outside, of course at the moment don’t forget!). The book teaches you how to make fresh modern spins on curry house classics.
The original SpiceBox is now a critically acclaimed curry house in Walthamstow, but it started life as a street food stall. Its founder, Grace Regan, believes that Indian food is the perfect gateway to vegan cuisine, and I’ve found that many of the recipes I cook from other Indian cookbooks are in fact vegan, without being marked as such. This might be Grace’s first cookbook, but readers of the Guardian and Huffington Post have enjoyed her writing. And there are already plans afoot for her to open a second SpiceBox, and also to launch a retail range of SpiceBox products.
The book is divided into chapters covering curries; dhal; grains and bread; street snacks; sides, as well as pickles and chutneys, and also drinks. Grace takes the reader through each of the key ingredients used and gives tips for preparing as well, of course, as cooking. It’s a fab book and will be enjoyed by anyone wanting to explore and enjoy a plant-based way of spicing up their culinary repertoire!
Here’s a taster of recipes from SpiceBox to whet your appetite:
Keralan Green Bean Thoran
‘I first discovered thorans while travelling around Kerala as a teenager. Most meals would include a dish of vegetables, sautéed with fresh coconut, curry leaves and mustard seeds. These aromatic stir-fries quickly became one of my favourite ways to cook vegetables and instantly transport me back to tropical Kerala, one of my favourite Indian states.
Fresh curry leaves really elevate this dish but if you don’t have any to hand, it’s fine to leave them out. This recipe is really versatile, and you can swap the beans out for whatever veg you have lying around such as cabbage, cooked Brussels sprouts or Tenderstem broccoli.’
1½ tbsp coconut oil
2 tsp brown mustard seeds
1 tsp cumin seeds
1 tsp fennel seeds
1 dried red chilli, ripped in half
10 fresh curry leaves (optional)
350g green beans, topped and cut in half
2 tsp sugar
A thumb-sized piece of ginger, grated
3 tbsp desiccated coconut
Juice of 1 lime
Heat 1 tablespoon of coconut oil in a large frying pan on a medium heat. Add the mustard seeds and fry until they pop. Add the cumin and fennel seeds, followed by the dried red chilli and curry leaves. Fry until they begin to crisp up, then take the pan off the heat.
Heat ½ tablespoon of coconut oil in another frying pan and add the beans, sugar and a pinch of salt. Stir through the ginger, adding a splash of water if needed. When the beans have begun to darken, add the coconut.
Cook, stirring as you go, until the coconut begins to toast and the beans are cooked through – make sure you don’t overcook the beans, as they are best with a bit of bite in them. Stir through the fried spice mix and lime juice and take the pan off the heat. Taste for seasoning.
Cabbage & Fennel Sabzi
‘‘Sabzi’ is a reasonably vague term used in Indian cooking to refer to vegetable dishes. I use it to refer to stir-fried veg dishes without a sauce (or ‘gravy’ as it is referred to in India). Cabbage is the perfect veg to stir fry with spices – all varieties of cabbage work well but I particularly like the sweet crispness of a pointed cabbage.
The addition of fennel came about when my flatmate, Milla, walked into the kitchen while I was testing this recipe. She had bought a bulb of fennel and was worried it wouldn’t be eaten, so I did the honourable thing and added it to my sabzi. It took the dish to a whole new level.’
2 tbsp veg oil
2 tsp brown mustard seeds
2 tsp cumin seeds
1 green chilli, slit lengthways
1 medium white onion, sliced into half-moons
4 large garlic cloves, grated or crushed
A thumb-sized piece of ginger, grated
½ a large green cabbage, thinly sliced
1 small fennel, thinly sliced
½ tsp ground turmeric
1 tsp sugar
Juice of 1 lime
Heat the oil in a large frying pan on medium heat and add all the seeds and the green chilli. When the seeds begin to pop and splutter, add the onion and 1 teaspoon of salt, and turn the heat down low to cook the onion really slowly. When the onion begins to soften – after about 5 minutes – add the garlic and ginger and cook until the onion is completely soft and caramelised (10–15 minutes in total).
Add the cabbage, fennel, turmeric and sugar, along with a splash of water and turn the heat back up to medium. Stir until the turmeric has turned the veg an even golden yellow. Place a lid on the pan and cook for 15 minutes until the veg is soft. Take the pan off the heat and stir through the lime juice. Taste for seasoning.
‘This is the dish that made SpiceBox! It has been on the menu since day one when jackfruit was still a relatively unknown ingredient in the UK. The only place I could buy tinned young jackfruit was Banglatown cash and carry off Brick Lane. The busier SpiceBox became, the lower their stock levels ran. Every week, I’d make a pilgrimage to Banglatown in my van and buy up every tin they had in stock but eventually, I outgrew their supply cycle. This meant a mad dash around London on my bike, scouring Asian supermarkets for that familiar yellow and green tin, a wave of relief washing over me when I spied it on the shelf among the cans of coconut milk and mango.
Fortunately, the UK has moved on since then and young jackfruit can now be found in most supermarkets (oh to think how easy life would have been …). It can also be ordered online. Avoid buying the sweet yellow jackfruit as you’ll end up with a dessert rather than a curry.
Jalfrezis are spicy and this recipe doesn’t hold back on the heat. Don’t be put off by the amount of chilli – it’s important to layer the different chillies on top of each other, as they all bring a unique flavour. If your chilli threshold is low, leave out the chilli powder and replace the chopped green chillies with coriander for garnish.’
For the jackfruit marinade
2 × 560g tins of young jackfruit, drained and rinsed
First, prepare the jackfruit. Place it in a large bowl and use your hands to tear it up into small pieces. It should resemble pulled pork. Add the rest of the marinade ingredients and use your hands to massage the marinade into the jackfruit. Set to one side for at least 15 minutes and up to 12 hours. When you are ready to cook, preheat the oven to 220°C.
Roast the jackfruit in the oven for 20 minutes, or until it’s crispy around the edges. You will need to stir it halfway through roasting.
Now make the curry sauce. Heat the oil in a large frying pan on medium heat, add the bay leaf and dried red chilli, and fry until golden. Add the onions and 1 teaspoon of salt and turn the heat down low to cook the onion really slowly. When the onions begin to soften – after about 5 minutes –
add the garlic, ginger, 1 green chilli and the green peppers, and cook until the onions are completely soft and caramelised and the peppers are soft (10–15 minutes in total).
Add the tomato purée, sugar and the rest of the ground spices. You may need to add a splash of water to stop them from burning. Stir-fry for a couple of minutes until the purée has turned a darker shade of red. Turn up the heat and add the passata, followed by the soy sauce, vinegar, roasted jackfruit and a splash of water. Simmer on a low heat for 15 minutes. Taste for seasoning. Serve topped with the remaining sliced green chilli
Extracted from SpiceBox: 100 Fresh, Vegan Curry House Favourites by Grace Regan (Ebury Press £20) photography by Joff Lee and James Lee