My local Indian restaurant is incredible. It does out-of-this-world Keralan vegetarian food, which I adore. Big chilli favours swathed in calming coconut milk. Its brash pink decor and the knockout food can make the rainiest London day feel a bit sunnier. The beetroot part of this dish comes from a trip to Kerala, where I was lucky enough to cook with a lovely lady called Leelu. This is my version of the beetroot thoran we made; a coconut-heavy beetroot curry with curry leaves, lemon and spinach. It may seem like you are adding a lot of desiccated coconut but please trust me, you need a lot in order to allow the sweetness to come through the earthy beetroot. I added my own little riff by spooning on top some spice-spiked cottage cheese “ beetroots and cottage cheese are a killer combination. You can use coconut or soya yoghurt instead of cottage cheese.
2 tablespoons coconut or sunflower oil
A good handful of curry leaves (about 20)
2 tablespoons mustard seeds
2 teaspoons cumin seeds
1 teaspoon ground turmeric
1 tablespoon curry powder
4 banana shallots or 8 small ones, peeled and finel
1“2 green chillies, finely chopped
2 cloves of garlic, peeled and crushed
A thumb-size piece of fresh ginger, peeled and finely chopped
10 tablespoons unsweetened desiccated coconut
1 teaspoon sea salt
Juice of 2 lemons
1kg beetroot, with stalks and leaves, beets peeled and coarsely grated, stalks and leaves washed and finely chopped
Heat the oil in a large saucepan over a medium heat , then add the curry leaves, mustard seeds and cumin seeds and sizzle until fragrant. Watch out “ the mustard seeds will pop a little.
Add the turmeric, curry powder, shallots, chillies, garlic and ginger and cook until the shallots are translucent. Stir in the desiccated coconut and salt and cook for a couple more minutes, stirring the whole time. Next, squeeze in the juice of 1 of the lemons and give everything a good mix. Take out 1 tablespoon of the spice mix and pop it into a bowl for later.
Chuck the grated beetroots and the stalks and leaves into the pan. Pour in the coconut milk, then turn the heat up and stir until the whole lot is vivid magenta. Bring to the boil, then lower the heat, put a lid on the pan and simmer for 35“45 minutes.
When the beetroot is soft, turn off the heat and throw in the spinach. Stir it through the curry to wilt it, adding the juice of half the second lemon. Taste and add a little more salt and pepper if needed, then put the lid back on.
In another bowl, mix the cottage cheese with the reserved tablespoon of coconut spice mix and the coriander. Add the juice of the last lemon half and season to taste.
Serve your beetroot curry with a spoonful of spiked cottage cheese and warm chapattis. And some steamed brown rice if you are really hungry.
Photography by Bryan W Ferry.
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