Kids And Spices

Back in the mists of time, once upon a time, we were adventurous cooks and eaters, taking in everything from the spices of the Orient to European starchy comfort food in the course of a day’s eating. Then we were hit by a culinary upheaval in our lives: our children, one by one, arrived.

Our first child agreeably downed mild chicken korma baby puree and we celebrated. Our children would be cosmopolitan in tastes, we would not have to adjust our eating patterns to accommodate fads and fussiness, or so we deluded ourselves.Until he was nearly two he ate everything we offered him, then something in our smug demeanour must have alerted him that he was missing out on a developmental stage. One by one he eliminated most of his previously favourite foods from his diet, until for a while he subsisted on plain boiled rice, plain yoghurt, apples, bananas, potatoes and bread with an occasional piece of plain meat. Note the emphasis on plain! No sauces were permitted to enliven the pure unadulterated ingredients. No foods might touch each other on the plate. Thus began the downhill slope into nursery food.

While we still had only the one child, I managed to cook us a seperate adult meal in the evenings. When the second and third joined us I gave up the struggle. One meal would have to do the whole family from now on. No more clearing up a children’s meal only to start cooking again for the two of us, just when I felt like collapsing on the sofa. For a few years I have managed to feed us all with a repertoire of traditional English dishes, most of which had their roots in the nursery. Stews and casseroles were tolerated, as I could pick pieces of meat out for the kids, stir-fries likewise. The favourite was roast chicken with roast potatoes and maybe a tiny floret of broccoli for a bit of colour.

The once over-flowing spice rack, however, became a sad dusty relic of past flavours. Out of date cumin and turmeric faded into insipidity. My husband occasionally would express a wistful hope of something spicy. Memories of Thai restaurants in London tantalised our dormant taste buds.

Recently therefore I have tried to reintroduce a little spice into our gastronomic lives. Nigel Slater’s Moroccan chicken recipe, with a slightly reduced amount of spices, made it past the flavour censors. Another recipe I tried from Madhur Jaffrey’s Cookbook was rejected. Reading through her book, which has languished unexplored on our shelves for years, I found a few vegetable recipes that were simple enough to do alongside a main meal and inspiration struck. A spicy vegetable side dish for the parents. Now I can feed us all the vegetables that the kids won’t eat. Aubergine/eggplant, spinach, peppers with a variety of authentic Indian spice combinations, liven up our anaesthetised palates and embellish the rather dull, plain meals that are all that the children will accept. Maybe one day they’ll be sufficiently intrigued to try the grown-ups’ special dish and then we will take the first step towards the cosmopolitan family gastronomy that we once so optimistically hoped for.

Here is Madhur Jaffrey’s recipe that broke new culinary ground for our family recently.

Neela’s Aubergine and Potato

4 tbs vegetable oil
½ tsp whole black mustard seeds
5oz/140g peeled diced potatoes ( ½ in/1 ½ cm cubes)
4oz/115g dice aubergine (½ in/1 ½ cm cubes)
1½ tsp ground coriander
1 tsp ground cumin
¼ tsp ground turmeric
1/8 –1/4 tsp cayenne pepper
½ tsp salt
1 tbs fresh green coriander (optional)

Heat the oil in an 8-10in/20-25cm pot with a lid, over a medium-high flame. When hot put in the mustard seeds. As soon as they start to pop (just a few seconds) put in the potato and aubergine. Stir once. Add the coriander, cumin, turmeric, cayenne and salt. Stir and fry for one minute. Add 3 tbs water, cover immediately with a tight fitting lid, turn heat to low and simmer gently for 10-15 minutes or until the potatoes are tender. Stir every now and again. If the vegetable seem to catch at the bottom of the pan add another tablespoon of water. Garnish with the chopped fresh coriander if you like.

I already had all the spices except the mustard seeds and it was good even without them, but I will try and add them to my new revived spice rack, as they feature in a lot of her recipes, that I hope to try in my newly global kitchen.

Eastern Vegetarian Cooking and Madhur Jaffrey’s more recent World Vegetarian are both an excellent resource for vegetarians or those wishing to cut down on meat, as so much of Indian and Eastern cooking is vegetarian by tradition. Endless ways have evolved over a thousand years of making the same vegetable take on new taste sensations and interest. My mouth is watering now in anticipation of trying her bread recipes. I haven’t had Naan bread since we left London and came to a farm far away from the delights of takeaways and ethnic restaurants. Now our kitchen is the take-away joint and I am the chef in residence, changing hats as I metamorphasise from Chinese stir-fry chef armed with wok to old fashioned English cook producing meat and two veg, boiled cabbage and all (not really!) and back to Indian curry joint, except as Madhur Jaffrey writes, curry powder was an invention of the English colonials nostalgic for spicy food of India and no true Indian cook would consider it for an instant, mixing their spices as appropriate for each particular dish. So my kitchen can now become fragrant with cardamon and coriander..onward to more global culinary travel!

Copyright Kit Heathcock 2006

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About The Author, Kit Heathcock
Kit Heathcock - worked and travelled in Italy for many years, is passionate about food and loves being a fulltime mother. Co-creator of home of original flower pictures, and