These evenings between Boxing Day and the start of term, I once heard them called the dead days. A new year begins with the sharp pencils and everyone back at work; the 1st itself is just long hours of board games and cold poached salmon. These dead days, these deader evenings, waiting for things to start again. Or perhaps that’s just me: you might have guessed, from how quiet it’s been round these parts. No Christmas blog, even. It’s been rough. Really rough.
As rough as it’s ever been, maybe.
And it isn’t getting any better: a month, six weeks, a little longer, even. Leaving the house is hard. Showering and brushing my hair is hard. Speaking is hard. Writing is hard. Being- just being in the most ordinary way- is hard. And going on is hard.
It is hard- it is so hard- to keep going on when nothing- i.e., me- seems to be getting any better. But go on I must. And go on I will.
The tide may not look like it’s turning when it’s lapping against the sea wall, but turning it is. Turn it must. Turn it will. We are well past the shortest day, and my soul will come back with the sun. In the meantime, I have a new sharp knife with a soft wood handle, and I have boundless things to chop. My soul will keep. My chopping shan’t.
Something brisk and bright; something hearty and sturdy and warm. And something new: I had never made a curry paste before I made this. Something new and clean and comforting for a dark and unmoored evening. Something green. Green for go.
It’s also vegetarian, which is a new thing I’m trying sometimes, along with doing exercise and meditating better. New year, new ideas. Make it new.
Keep It Together Green Butterbean Curry
Serves 4, with leftovers. 30 mins.
For the paste:
Two little onions, or shallots.
Six green finger chillies
Four garlic cloves
One small-ish bunch of coriander
Four kaffir lime leaves (mine were very dried and to be honest, I’m not sure they helped much, so feel free to leave these out, or sub in a little extra lime zest)
A big piece of ginger- about the size of your middle and index fingers pressed together.
One tablespoon of coriander seeds
One teaspoon cumin powder
Three tablespoons black peppercorns
Three teaspoons Thai fish sauce*
One tablespoon pressed rapeseed oil
*The marvellous Eleanor Turney has pointed out that for Proper Vegetarians, this should be substituted for “soy + a little salt”. Thank you, Eleanor!
For the curry itself:
Two red onions
One 400g can full-fat coconut milk (daring!)
Two 400g cans butterbeans in water
One big bag of kale (mine came from the Co-op, but I threw the packet away before I checked how much exactly)
10-12 bits of Tenderstem broccoli (one packet- like the kale, mine came from the Co-op and I forgot)
One or two dried lemongrass sticks.
A sharp knife, a chopping board, a biggish pan- the wok is perfect- and a blender (food-processor? I’m never sure. One of the things with the blades that jhuzjh food into paste.).
The place to begin is making the curry paste. I had never made one like this before, and it’s rather fun, and terrifyingly easy. I sort of started with this, and tinkered according to what we had in. And it was very lovely, if not at all like conventional curry paste. Essentially, you just chop everything up, and bung it in the blender- so simple it seems unnecessary to write a recipe for it.
Anyway. Chop your shallots- I just did them into little semi-circles- and your garlic (the normal way). Peel and grate all of the ginger. I am on the hunt for a better way of peeling ginger than mine (hack off great lumps with a knife), but hacking does work. Ish.
Zest your lime (I’m also fairly inept at zesting: so it goes); juice the sad white remains. A zested and goosepimply citrus is one of the saddest things I know. Chop your chillies and your coriander. Whack everything into the blender.
Grind your pepper, and your coriander seeds. I use Tall Man for this, but your mileage may vary. Tip them in too.
Lid on blender. Blitz for thirty seconds, to entirely deconstruct the coriander. Tip in the fish sauce. Blitz encore. Lid off. Scrape down the sides, and pour in a little rapeseed oil.
(Aside: I have recently begun to use rapeseed oil because the Tall Man’s mother’s husband read out an article from the Telegraph about coming olive oil shortages in 2015, and I’m easily scared. It’s gorgeous. Absolutely gorgeous. Peppery and light and lovely, and British, too, if things like food miles still matter. Do they still matter? I hope they do.
When I was a kid my friend Bethany and I used to race on our bicycles down the hill in the oilseed rape field, which must have irritated the farmer no end. Sorry, farmer. We were very small.)
You may need a little more or a little less than a tablespoon of oil- I splashed mine in from the bottle, but I thought I ought to put in a bit of guidance. It’s really only to bind it together a bit.
When you’ve blitzed your paste, you can chop two red onions, and while you’re there with your knife you might as well chop your tenderstem into little green disc-y bits, and check your kale is washed and chopped. (Probably ordinary broccoli would be fine too, I’ve just got an odd broccoli hang-up.)
Take your onions, and fry them off, in a heavy bottomed frying pan until translucent. Add the paste- yes, all of it. I tried with about half, and it was so mild as to be unnoticeable. So. All of the paste, and two translucent red onions. A can of full-fat coconut milk. Usually I use light, but it was all the shop had- and oh god it was marvellous. And since everything else is so green and fresh, it’s an entirely justified extravagance.
And two cans of butterbeans, drained and rinsed. These are new to me, too, or at least I don’t ever remember enjoying them before. So creamy and delicious. And, for a vegetable curry dish, really rather pretty at this stage.
I stirred it a bit here, and let the whole thing reduce, and took some deep breaths, and tasted a bit, and felt quite calm. There’s something nice about this stage in cooking (in inventing), when everything is coming together as you imagined it in your head. It’s a lot like writing an essay, or a story: the bit where the conclusion actually fits everything else you’ve been tweaking and meddling with all the way through. I had missed that feeling.
So, we stir, we let it reduce, and then when there’s still a fair bit of liquid in the pan, we add the chopped washed kale, and the chopped washed Tenderstem, and pop the lid on, for four-to-five minutes. You will want to keep a North eye on it, here- overcooked kale is one of the nastiest things on God’s green earth- and you’ll take the lid off while the kale still looks that lovely bright colour. The broccoli will still have a good bite to it, to sort of contrast against the soft soft beans.
Stir vigorously, to coat the greens in some of the lovely coconutty sauce- they will have absorbed the flavour from the steam, but the creaminess is splendid- and serve. Probably brown rice would be a nice companion, but honestly, it’s terribly good all by itself. A small nice moment to keep you going. On you go. On we go.