Funky Pretty – cauliflower and aubergine curry

“Need some help?” enquired one of the two charming students sitting opposite us for the ‘all you can eat’ thali. The hotel on MG road had seen grander days (Winston Churchill once stayed there) but now was a very popular lunch destination serving delicious food. Friendly staff brought us a couple of teaspoons, but I had been to South India before and had no need of these.

However we did take up the offer of advice. There were more than seven or eight different mini servings on the banana leaf and it was hard to know which were pudding and which were savoury. They were all very good.

This is a much smaller, more basic selection. The sort of thing I make for myself often. I have always aimed for funky pretty in most things…

Ingredients: half a small cauliflower, including the leaves, an onion, one or two carrots, half an aubergine, one courgette, a piece of cucumber, two or three red chilis, one large or two small tomatoes, a small bunch of coriander leaves, a few curry leaves, fresh lemon/ lime (unwaxed), several cloves of garlic, a teaspoon each of fenugreek seeds, mustard seeds, ground coriander, ground cumin, two or three cloves, the same of cardamon, salt, plain yoghurt, besan (chick pea flour). 15g butter and the same of rape seed oil. More oil for frying.

For the fried vegetables: Diagonally slice the carrots and courgette to give long thin shards. (Dice any leftovers). Halve the chillies. Put the long slices of courgette and half the chillies in a dish and cover with a pinch of salt and the juice of a lemon. After a while add the partly cooked carrot slices and continue to marinade. Then sprinkle on a tablespoonful or two of besan and stir it all around to lightly coat the vegetables.

For the curry: Slice the cauliflower florets, garlic and onion. Cube the aubergine and tomatoes. Add the butter and oil to a 20cm cast iron pan. When the butter has melted add the whole spices and gently stir. After the mustard seeds begin to pop put in the onion, garlic, half the chillies, then the ground spices, then cauliflower, carrot slices, aubergine and any diced leftover carrots and courgette. Stir around with a wooden spoon then leave on a low heat for a while. Now take out the partly cooked carrot slices and add to the marinating courgettes. When the curry begins to stick add the tomatoes and the squeezed lemon halves, cut in two. The next time it sticks add a teacupful of water and some coriander leaves. Stir it with the besan spoon to thicken a little and leave on a low heat until soft. Take out the lemon.

Make some basmati rice using the instructions on the packet. When almost cooked lay on a few cauliflower leaves to steam (cover it). Make a little raita with the yoghurt, any leftover chilli, a few coriander leaves, some diced cucumber and the flesh of the cooked lemon.

Heat about 75 ml rape seed oil in a small deep pan. The oil should be about about 1cm deep or less. (If you don’t like frying you can use less oil and a wok, but they mightn’t be so crunchy.) Add the curry leaves and take them out when sizzling. Put these in the courgette mix – they should crumble. Turn the heat down to half way. Two by two, carefully lay strips of vegetable into the hot oil (careful, they will spit) and watch until they are golden, turning over at least once. Pile the cooked slices on some paper towel to drain.

Finally arrange a few steamed cauliflower leaves under the curry, alongside rice, fried vegetables and raita on a tray or plate. Serve with slices of lime and mango chutney.

‘She values flowers more than gold’ Funky Pretty by the Beach Boys

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