My life in food: prawn saag

You can learn a lot about a person from sharing a meal. I have come up with a few questions I intend to ask a variety of people about their taste in food and their ‘personal food histories’. I’ll be posting the questionnaires up here on my blog under the category ‘Food: people’, and to start off, here is my own.

What is your earliest food-related memory? I remember my grandfather laughing at me because I liked Stilton cheese.

Who first taught you to cook and when? My mum when I was ten or eleven. She used a wheelchair so I learnt to cook by following her directions in the kitchen, and from Delia Smith, we used to watch her every week.

Who showed you how not to cook? My grandma on my father’s side, she ate boil-in-the-bag cod in parsley sauce and tinned meat and her gravy was so thin you could see through it. When my dad and I cleared out her flat after she died, we found tinned sausages so old they had oxidised and on being disturbed, they exploded all over the kitchen.

What is your favourite food? I love most Indian curries, and especially my Dad’s saag prawn. Dad loved curry and would cook it for us almost every weekend, failing that we’d get a take-out. He was meticulous and enjoyed measuring out his spices with a precision that made me laugh, and he liked them so hot I sometimes couldn’t bear to eat them. It became a kind of macho thing for me, to clean my plate in spite of the heat, but now I love to eat anything with a good kick.

What wouldn’t you eat and why? I am becoming increasingly wary of processed foods. When I was growing up I cooked a fair bit, but because my dad had a long commute to work and mum couldn’t cook because of her MS, we ate a lot of convenience foods and pre-packed meals. Since my dad died young of bowel cancer I have become more concerned about the effect that poor diet has on your health. While I am still far from having a completely organic, natural diet, I am now avoiding pre-prepared meals and I always prefer to cook my own.

Share one of the most memorable meals you’ve ever eaten… I have worked as a waiter in a Michelin-starred restaurant and for top catering companies, so I have tasted a fair bit of fine food but none of it stands out like my grandma’s chicken kiev. She only made it for me once, and until that day I had only eaten chicken kiev made from reformed meat. I remember being so impressed that she had deep-fried a chicken breast in breadcrumbs so that when you cut into it, it oozed garlic butter.

The recipe for a dish you make regularly that was handed down to you, and from whom:

Dad’s saag prawn (serves 2-3)

1 onion, finely chopped
Oil for frying
1-2” piece of fresh ginger, grated
2 cloves garlic, grated
1 cinnamon stick
2-3 hot dried red chillies (or fresh)
½ tsp ground coriander
½ tsp ground turmeric
½ tsp salt
Tin of tomatoes
250g frozen cooked prawns, defrosted
250g fresh spinach leaves, washed
½ tsp garam masala
Lemon wedges, to serve

Heat the oil in a deep-sided frying pan and cook the onion until golden.

Add the fresh garlic and ginger and fry for another minute or two before adding the cinnamon, chilli, coriander, turmeric and salt.

Stir well until the onions are coated in the spices then add the chopped tinned tomatoes. Give the whole lot a good stir.

Cover and leave to simmer over a medium-low heat for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally to make sure the sauce doesn’t stick to the pan.

After 30 minutes the sauce should be fragrant and fairly dry, do not be alarmed by this, the water from the spinach will provide plenty of moisture. Stir in the garam masala followed by the prawns and washed (and dried) spinach leaves.

Stir well and keep the curry moving until the spinach leaves are just wilted and the prawns are warmed through. This does not take very long, a few minutes at most. Take the curry off the heat as soon as the spinach is soft otherwise you will end up with hard overcooked prawns and soggy, insipid greens!

Serve with white basmati rice and a squeeze of fresh lemon juice.

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I’d love to hear your food story. If you care to share, please copy and paste the questions below, and send your answers to me via email along with a photograph of yourself at any age, with some food or drink.

Your name and occupation:

What is your earliest food-related memory?

Who first taught you to cook and when?

Who showed you how not to cook?

What is your favourite food?

What wouldn’t you eat and why?

Share one of the most memorable meals you’ve ever eaten…

Give the recipe for a dish you make regularly that was handed down to you…

Who gave you the recipe?


Photos need to be 72dpi and 1024 pixels wide.

By sending me your completed questionnaire and photograph you you agree for your answers and image to be published on gannetandparrot.com.

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