How We Get Five of our Ten a Day in One Meat-free Curry

Who knows how many helpings of fruit and vegetables we’re supposed to be eating in a day for a healthy diet? I once thought it was five and found that target relatively easy to achieve: with an orange juice at breakfast and perhaps an apple and banana as part of my packed lunch, it was a formality to complete the five by including a couple of veg on the menu for the evening meal. When I read that the number of portions for a healthy diet was actually seven , that particular bar was raised slightly higher than my comfort zone allowed and a recent glance at the NHS website informed me we should really be eating ten to optimise the health benefits and reduce the risk of heart disease, strokes and cardio-vascular disease.

Some might say ‘why bother?’ Why go to a lot of trouble just to live a bit longer? I think the comedian Billy Connolly is brilliant and in his ‘Sex Life of Bandages’ show, he describes his fondness for sandwiches made with white bread, ridiculing those who might choose to eat brown bread on the basis that white bread tastes great (we’ll let that one go — it was a comedy show). He goes on to act out, with fantastic hilarity, how eating the brown bread would lead to a much longer life, to the point where the careful dieter becomes their own version of a ‘one of your five a day’ cabbage — needing to be fed their food which they inevitably dribble. Perhaps, though, it’s not the getting older that we brown-bread-and-five-a-day eaters are aiming for but the not-going-gaga bit that we’re hoping to avoid (or, at least, put off for a bit…).

So, how to clear that ten-a-day bar? In this article I will describe how I aim to hit five (or even six) portions in one curry meal — leaving a more-manageable four or five for breakfast and lunch (!). As I’m not a professional chef or nutritionalist, this will not be a researched or tested piece — it’s just the way I go about it and it’s not necessarily completely right but will hopefully provide a little inspiration.

My reputation among friends and family is that of a decent cook — with curry my particular speciality. For many years I have been mystified by my gaining this reputation and my advice for anyone wishing to cook a decent curry is to find a decent recipe and follow it. Over the years I have owned various books by the chef Madhur Jaffrey; for Kashmiri recipes I’ve followed Geeta Samtani and Mridula Baljekar’s ‘Taste of Goa’ has provided a higher level of spice to my dishes. More recently, Meera Sodha’s ‘Made in India’ has been a source of simple methods with high reward in taste and variation.

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Result! Chickpea curry and cauli-pea rice, with spinach and onions

We’re aiming for a chickpea curry — drawn from recipes I have tried from Madhur Jaffrey and others — alongside my own cauli-pea rice and spinach with onions (above). This includes portions of chick peas, tomato, onion, cauliflower, peas and spinach. In addition there are bonus bits of veg, including ginger, garlic and lemon juice.The spinach with onions can be considered an optional extra accompaniment as far as hitting the five a day is concerned — leave it out if you want to keep things simpler.

The method below provides enough curry for two people, with possible left-overs. To serve four or five, just double up on the onions and chickpeas.

  1. Start by measuring out your basmati rice: one handful per person — thank you for that tip, Meera Sodha (For those who want a slightly more precise measurement, that’s 50ml in a measuring jug or 50g if you’d prefer to weigh it) . Put the rice in a cereal bowl to soak in plenty of water.
  2. Then make up some of your favourite vegetable stock so it has 1.5 times the volume of the rice (about 75ml or 75g per person) — thank you Madhur Jaffrey! Keep to one side, with the bowl of rice.
  3. Into a large frying pan or medium saucepan, pour a couple of table-spoons of your favourite frying oil (that’s a good lug as Jamie Oliver might say). I use rapeseed or olive oil.