It is the first week of December and already I feel behind. Since November, newspaper supplements have practically dripped with all of the food that editors breathlessly extoll us to make; and my heart involuntarily races at the sight of those excruciatingly detailed checklists that will ‘make Christmas effortless.’ And then there are the actual presents. It is enough to make a sane person go into meltdown.
Normally by this time most of the presents I intend to buy are stashed haphazardly around the house. Such is the pre-maturity of my usual present buying (July) that I have sometimes even popped little notes in my diary with clues as to where these presents are secreted. But not this year.
Alarmingly slowly I am getting into gear for Christmas. Some of this entails trying my hardest to resist the siren call of Amazon, and all of those other Internet sites that make gift-buying so easy. But, with the encouragement of my good friend Niki, who wrote very subtly but effectively about trying to keep afloat smaller, local retailers and crafts people, I am aiming to keep my buying footprint as small as possible. But it ain’t easy.
It is not easy when tippy tapping on my laptop at 11 pm in my dressing gown and fleecy pjs is more than enticing, it is almost irresistible - think of the money saved! think of the time saved! think of the ever-expanding choice! think about not having to get dressed!
But I am determined not to succumb. It just doesn’t feel right anymore. At least for most of the presents: online shops like etsy, and the less glitzy zibbet, are the acceptable faces of online shopping – sites full of real people, with unique products. And for those of us shopping for folk in other countries the Internet is a godsend. So I am not being snobby. Just choosey.
Maybe the older I get the more I want to talk to a real person, touch real goods, hand over real money (okay, plastic money), and – best of all – not have to go to the post office with one of those wretched ‘sorry we missed you’ cards when you know you were in the house the whole time – grrr. We are lucky in Edinburgh to still have several shopping areas not blighted by swathes of chain stores, as well as more than enough galleries and shops featuring original and affordable art to make buying easy. If only I would get dressed. Must. Try. Harder.
Anyway, my festive malaise has crept into my recipes too. Just being honest. I am not a Scrooge or anything – I love Christmas. But just as I don’t get Christmas decorations in November, I’m not keen on a month of holiday recipes either. It is a fine balance between looking for new ideas and planning ahead (all for that), and getting tired and jaded with Christmas trimmings, carols, food and hangovers before the Big Day itself. So, I am resisting posting my wee list of recipes that I hope give you ideas for holiday cooking. At least until the end of the week
I also just want to give one more non-festive recipe before I go all Martha Stewart on you. But I have just realised that it is in fact a festive recipe. Just not a Christmas festive recipe. All of a sudden I am feeling my anti pre-festive overkill stance wavering. Pass the mince pies…
About the recipe: Coconut rice is an incredibly popular dish, with many variations, across southern India, southeast Asia and the Caribbean. Although it has religious significance in India– as a temple offering on Chitra pournami – it is eaten widely and enjoyed year round. My version, a pick and mix of what I happen to like and have to hand, is as easy as it is delicious. The contrasts of the salty, sweet and ever so slightly hot – and the juxtaposition of crunchy with soft – had me hooked from the get go. I was inspired by a recipe from Tahmina on kolpona.com, who sadly no longer blogs but to whom I am grateful for her many beautiful recipes and stories.
Traditionally, fresh coconut flakes are used in southern Indian coconut rice, but for ease I have suggested flaked or the horribly-monikered, desiccated (a word that for some reason reminds me of Egyptian mummies). You could even use – and I have, with smooth and delicious results – coconut powder; about 3 tablespoons of coconut powder will flavour without overwhelming. I don’t think my inclusion of extra lentils in this ostensibly rice-centric dish would pass muster in an Indian kitchen, but I like the extra heft of protein and the cooling, legumey back note. Skip it if you like, but I find the lentils turn this dish from side to main in the tear of a packet. Equally you can skip the curry leaves if you don’t have them (I used dried ones), but they give a pleasing earthy scent.
I like to have this on its own for a nutritious and selfish lunch for one plus leftovers, but you may like it as a side for a curry dish, or with grilled or roasted fish. Just be sure and include the yogurt and turmeric onions.
Coconut Rice with Sweet Potato and Black Lentils
This deceptively easy recipe has a lot going on. Sweet nuts and sweet potato marry well with the subtle spicing and delightful crunch of raw urad dal and mustard seeds. It is quick-as if you already have cooked rice and brown lentils (or use pouched of both as I have done). Although you could eat it as a side dish to a southern Indian curry – this dry lamb curry from UK-based Indian chef Maunika Gowardhan looks stunning – I like it as a light and quick lunch that fills me up without slowing me down. Add a fried or poached egg for more filling power, and be sure to dollop on some cool creamy thick yogurt. I can’t overstate how much I love this recipe.
2 tsp coconut oil
½ tsp black mustard seeds
1 tsp cumin seeds
½ tsp salt
1 tbsp urad dal –a type of Asian black bean available in Asian stores and larger supermarkets, usually split (I use TRS’s “Urad Dal Chilka)
handful of raw cashew nuts or peanuts
4 small dried red chillies (or to taste)
1 tsp freshly grated ginger (or frozen grated)
a few dried or fresh curry leaves – optional
200g (1 cup) cooked basmati or other long-grain rice (I use a pouch of Tilda brand brown basmati)
150g (3/4 cup) cooked brown or green lentils (I often use a pouch of Merchant Gourmet brand)
1 small sweet potato, peeled (about 175g)
100g (3/4 cup) desiccated or flaked coconut
1 red or brown onion, finely chopped or sliced
1 tsp coconut oil + 1 small knob butter/vegan spread
½ tsp ground turmeric
pinch of salt and sugar
Heat the coconut oil in a wok over a medium-high heat, and add the mustard, cumin seeds, salt, urad dal and cashews. When the mustard pops add the dried chillies, ginger, curry leaves, cooked rice and lentils; give it a toss around with some wooden spatulas for a minute. Grate in the sweet potato and stir fry for a minute before adding the coconut. Saute for a further minute or two, just until the coconut smells fragrant and browns ever so slightly. Decant the cooked dish into a serving bowl or on a plate and keep covered until the onions are cooked. Or do them concurrently in separate pans.
For the onions, heat the oil and butter over a medium flame and add the remaining ingredients. Saute until the onions are very soft and slightly sticky. To serve, add a dollop of thick plain yogurt over the coconut rice, then top with the turmeric onions.
Serves 1-2 generously