Food, like identity, is constructed in layers. Multiple influences, multiple ingredients, create unique dishes, unique tales. A meal is both a history and a personal news report. Where did we come from? Where did we learn to cook? Who were our people and where did they travel and what did they bring home to us? What are we currently growing and where do we live? What can we afford to eat today?
This Chickpea Curry is a stew of my stories, and those of my parents, and their parents. The fragrance of the onions that form the base pull me back to Mummy’s kitchen, where she began almost every savoury dish that way, with sweet pepper, garlic and thyme also tossed in. The curry powder is from England both literally and figuratively; growing up in the UK, my mother was introduced to East Indian cuisine, loved it, and learned to cook it for us, her family, years later in the Bahamas.
The chickpeas speak to my own beliefs about health. For years, I used canned chickpeas for ease and speed; now, I try to buy dried beans instead, both to reduce the waste of tins and to avoid the BPA that usually lines them. It’s cheaper, too.
The bay leaves carry me back to the islands, reminding me of the addle-minded handyman who earned a reputation for appearing at bedroom windows awkwardly, ever asking for some fix-it aid or ill-placed screwdriver or needing a window to be opened or closed. His most useful visit was when he disappeared down the road into an overgrown vacant lot, and returned with a bag full of bay leaves, pulled off an obliging tree. I wouldn’t have known to find them there myself, or dared to venture into the bush for the harvest. Clearly, he wasn’t such a dullard after all.
The vegetables I used reflect what is in season, affordable, looks good on shopping day, needs to be used up, or some combination thereof. This time, tomatoes featured since fella’s mother gave us several beautiful Beefsteaks. Eggplant appeared as I had a rather watery one left over and figured it would taste better in curry than anything else. The kale was picked from our community garden plot that morning.
Finally, the roti. Part learned from my mother, who tested out paratha recipes and still, to my mind, makes the best ones. Part from Daddy, whose work took him through the Caribbean, where he–and we–learned of and grew to love West Indian roti, soft, almost plump breads wrapped lovingly around thick island curries. This is why I used a Caribbean roti recipe, but treated it like paratha. The treatment is similar to the way a Kenyan friend makes chapati. Memories of this friend and her unique brand of reverse-missionaryism still amuse me.
She would invite a glut of unsuspecting acquaintances and classmates over (mostly White North Americans), feed us richly on home-cooked Kenyan dishes, then, when guards were down and bellies filled, she would force even the most reticent into robust renditions of African hymns and dances, draping the unlikely with Kenyan fabrics, and trilling “You all sound really good, really African,” rolling her rs in that delicious, watery way. Some folks got into it. Others were visibly and delightfully discomforted.
As I combine the curry ingredients and mix the bread dough, remembering, these memories and flavours meld. Each dish, like each individual, is a unique amalgamation. Most days, this is how I make meals–melding styles, techniques, and lessons absorbed through life, family, friends, adding what I know will taste good, drawing from the fridge and cupboards as much as from memories.
1 large onion, chopped
1 garlic clove, minced
2 tsp Curry Powder
thyme, to taste
4 cups cooked chickpeas
1 1/2 cups water, more if needed, depending on the desired thickness
1/4 cup creamed coconut
2 bay leaves
1 cup chopped Japanese eggplant
1 cup chopped tomato
6-10 black kale leaves
salt and black pepper, to taste
1. Fry the onion in a fairly generous amount of oil, until transparent. Add the garlic and curry powder, and cook, stirring constantly, about a minute.
2. Add the chickpeas and water. While bringing to boil, season with thyme, creamed coconut, and bay leaves, and add eggplant and tomato.
3. Let simmer at least half an hour, stirring occasionally. Meanwhile, remove the stems from the kale and chop. Add stems to curry.
4. 10-12 minutes before you wish to serve, season with salt and pepper, and tear kale leaves into curry.
5. Taste and adjust salt and pepper, if needed. Serve with quinoa or rice, and with roti.
The roti/paratha/chapati was based on this recipe: http://celiegirl.hubpages.com/hub/Roti-West-Indian-style
I rolled it out, then spread with Earth Balance, folded, spread again, and folded, about four times, then rolled out gently, once more, before cooking on the tava (a cast-iron pan would do the trick, too).