Oh. It’s January. How has that happened? It was June last week, then I ate some turkey, and now everyone on my social media feed is making vegan beef forerib out of beetroot and cashew nuts.
I decided long ago, on the grounds of an irrational hatred of the Gregorian calendar (base twelve makes me itchy), and a more reasonable loathing of ‘new year new me’ content, that January will be just another month. No different to November, or February, really. I don’t do much in the way of cliches, so if I ever need a new beginning, I’ll quit my job, buy a van, work on a remote goat farm in France and chain-read obscure novels until my thoughts are as deep as my overdraft. Ahem.
So, January sees me continuing to eat what I like, which is great because what I like is more Christmas food. This seems to be a bit of a crime according to most of the glossy UK foddersphere, who are currently using words like ‘light’, ‘fresh’ and ‘restorative’ to describe their (admittedly) very lovely-looking January recipes – but last week I made a full roast dinner with all the festive trimmings, stuffed it all into a baguette and covered it in gravy made with homemade beef stock and red wine. I win.
Making rich festive food last as long as possible is important to me. Why stop in December when there are at least three, if not four months until it’s no longer winter and the requirement for rib sticking fare wanes a little? Why should pigs in blankets, arguably the best thing about Christmas (as well as an excellent hill-snack) no longer be eaten all year round? In protest, I buy all the mincemeat when it’s discounted to 10p a jar and continue to make mince pies until May, when the sun makes a short appearance and I immediately switch to gargling elderflower cordial instead.
All that said and done, having spent the best part of eight weeks ploughing through stocking-filler smarties and rolos, plus Christmas cake, Quality Street, chocolate brussel sprouts, roasted brussel sprouts, toasted and buttered panettone, the odd clementine, and every configuration of cheese and biscuits possible within the bounds of Aldi’s dairy chiller, it finally happened. My body wanted something else. Just for a minute. As a contrast.
Perhaps something curried.
So I curried some vegetables. I fried a red onion in some oil and a gazillion different spices, and added to it the florets of a head of cauliflower and a tin of chickpeas. I wished for some spinach here, but alas, I had none. I added fresh chilli; a burst of lemon juice; some more cumin and a dash of hot water to get the spicy fond off the bottom of the pan. Didn’t even look at the merlot next to the hob for deglazing. Not today, ribsticker. I tasted it (the curry, not the wine) and it was fresh. Light, one might say. Restorative.
Perhaps I’d finally come round to it: the zestiness, the zinginess, the zapiddiydoodiness of new year, new me. New flavours, new spices, new textures. And then I gleefully ruined any whiff of virtue because I went and wrapped the bloody lot in puff pastry.
Curried Cauliflower and Chickpea Puff Pastry Squares (VG)
Makes 4 big yins with leftover curry for later. It’s meant to be a ‘dry’ dish, by the way, so don’t worry that you can’t see where a sauce is coming from. There isn’t one, and that’s ok – it’s moist enough from the cauli florets, and you don’t want the filling too wet or it’ll make the pastry soggy and/or burn your mouth.
- 320g (a roll) of puff pastry
- A large head of cauliflower
- A tin of chickpeas
- A large red onion
- 3 cloves of garlic
- ½ phat red chilli, deseeded if you so wish (I didn’t bother as the ones I have are quite mild)
- A tsp or two of lemon juice
- A tsp of mustard seeds
- A tsp of cumin seeds
- A tsp of ground cumin
- A tsp of ground coriander
- A tsp of freshly ground black pepper
- ½ a tsp of chilli flakes
- A tsp of turmeric
- A scant tbsp of garam masala
- (Alternatively to the above spices, 2 tablespoons of hot curry powder)
Get a large diameter frying pan out and admire it for a couple of seconds before thwacking some heat under it and dry toasting the mustard seeds and cumin seeds until fragrant. If you want, you can take them out and grind them in a pestle and mortar but I didn’t bother because screw the gaps in my teeth. They need filled anyway.
Next pour in around 3-4 tbsps of vegetable oil wait for it to shimmer before popping in all of your spices, or the curry powder if you’re using that. Bloom your spices for around 2-3 minutes while you chop your onion into thin half-moons, and finely chop your garlic. Add the onion into the pan and stir to coat everything, add around a teaspoon of table salt, then pop a lid on and turn the heat down so it all sweats and cooks through. While your onion sweats like a food blogger trying to come up with a half decent joke here, chop your cauli up into bite sized florets (keep the stem and leaves and put them in the freezer for making soup later). When the onions are nearly soft, add the minced garlic and the cauli florets and stir everything together. Cook with the lid off for around 8 minutes, stirring every now and again or until the cauliflower is softening but still has a little bite. You may want to add a spash of boiling water here, to deglaze the spices and deliciousness stuck to the bottom of the pan. In this time, chop your chilli and add it in. Season again if it needs it, and add the lemon juice. If you have spinach, now would be a great time to wilt in a handful or so. Now, switch off the heat and leave it all to settle a bit and put your oven on to 200c.
Unravel your puff pastry and cut into 8 even rectangles. Now, scoop filling (that’s the curry you just made, btw) into four of those rectangles – around 3-4 heaped tablespoons per oblong; as much as you can fit, really. With remaining four rectangles – the lids – use a wetted finger (Christ, please use tap water, not anything else) to run around their edges so they stick to the bases. Unite bases and lids together. You may have to do some stretching over the filling with the lids, but that’s ok. Pinch the edges together with your fingers before going over with a fork like a Greggs steak bake. Poke holes in the tops, either with a fork or make a couple of slits with a knife. This is to help any steam from the filling escape so your slabs of pastry don’t come apart. Bake for 20 minutes at 200c.
Serve with mango chutney, spicy lime pickle and all the green triangles from a box of Quality Street.