Virgin Curry

This recipe is a fabulous one for students and families alike – it’s very easy, and very very cheap!  It might not sound like much, but it has a very venerable history – after the First World War, when things like curry powder first became available in the shops, my nana (like most people, I think) looked at it and thought, what the heck do I do with that? So she popped it in with some gravy and created this dish, which is nothing like a curry but absolutely delicious all the same. It’s rich and tasty, with a lovely balance of savoury and sweet flavours. My mum used to make it for us all the time when we were little, and it was one of the first things I learned to cook too! At uni it was one of my staple dishes, and when one of my housemates nicknamed it virgin curry (since the amount of actual curry in it is really negligible) the name just stuck.

200g of lamb mince
One onion
Two or three carrots (depending on how big they are!)
Two sticks of celery
Two big handfuls of sultanas
A tablespoon of medium curry powder
A teaspoon or so of Very Lazy Chillies
A tablespoon of gravy powder
A dollop of tomato puree
Salt and pepper
Olive oil
200g of rice, to serve

Serves 2.

Now that you’ve read the ingredients list, you’re probably agreeing with my earlier comment that this isn’t really anything like a curry… mind you, my nana would have put swede or turnip in it also, and would have had no truck with the chillies, so my version is at least slightly updated! The sultanas probably sound like madness, but please give the whole thing a try, because it works best with everything together – the dried fruit will swell up as it absorbs the liquid and add the most fabulous sweetness to the dish. One more note – you want this to thicken up towards the end and lose quite a lot of the liquid, and I find that using a wok (just to complete the surreal cross-pollination of cultures) really speeds this up, since it’s so wide and shallow.

Start out by dicing the onions, carrots and celery finely, and get them sizzling gently in a bit of olive oil. Once the onions have started to turn soft and golden, add a tablespoon of the curry powder, stir it through well, and leave the vegetables to fry for a couple more minutes, while you get the gravy ready. Pop the tablespoon of gravy powder in a jug and add about 700ml cold water – it’s very important that you use cold, because if you use hot water (like you would with stock) it will turn into jelly! Stir it really well until the powder has all dissolved, then add it to the pan. Obviously it will take a little while to warm up again, so add the sultanas and then pop a lid on and wait for it to start bubbling again before you add the mince.

Adding the mince after the liquid (rather than before, like you would with spaghetti Bolognese, for example) is my mum’s trick to stop the curry powder making the sauce all gritty – it gets plenty of time to completely dissolve before the meat starts thickening up the sauce. Once the mince is in and has started browning, add a dollop of tomato puree and a good grinding of salt and pepper.

Now you need to leave the sauce to thicken and reduce, so leave the lid off and turn the heat to medium. This is a good time to start thinking about rice – click here to go to the How To page where you’ll find my fool-proof method for making fluffy takeaway-style rice (the fabulous How To page also has loads of other top tips for doing simple things really really well).

Once the sauce is really thick and dark, serve it up with a generous mound of rice. I’m not sure where this came from (and it’s certainly not particularly healthy!) but in the Godfrey household we’ve always added a few dabs of butter  to the rice once it’s on the plate. Grub’s up!