Chickpea and Spinach Curry

Chickpea and Spinach Curry
Chickpea and spinach curry cooking, with steam rising out of the pan

Serves 3-4

1-2 tblsp olive oil
1 onion, sliced or chopped
3-4 cloves garlic, crushed
1/2 tsp turmeric
1/2 tsp cumin seeds
1/4 tsp dried ginger
1/4 tsp ground coriander
1/4 tsp chili powder
1/4 tsp salt
1 tsp garam masala (or curry powder)
1 small can (approx 140g) tomato paste or puree
400-500g cooked or canned chickpeas
100-200g fresh (or thawed frozen) spinach
water as needed

Fry the onion pieces in hot oil in a saucepan until they have become transparent, then add the garlic and stir for a minute or two more. Turn the heat down, then add the spices and salt and stir for about a minute, then add the tomato paste, chickpeas and spinach and stir well to coat. Add the aquafaba (chickpea cooking water), rinsing out the tomato paste can if necessary, or extra water as needed, so as to just cover the chickpeas.

Simmer for about twenty minutes, uncovered, stirring occasionally, and squishing a few of the chickpeas against the sides of the pan to thicken it. The consistency of the curry should be quite thick when it's ready but don't let it burn on the bottom of the pan. It's fine to simmer for a bit longer, with a lid on the pan, but check regularly and add more water as needed. 

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For a very quick meal, you could use a couple of cans of chickpeas, but I prefer the slightly crunchier and larger ones that come from cooking them myself. That needs a bit more preparation since chickpeas have to be soaked for several hours (overnight, if possible) and then cooked for around an hour in fresh water, before adding to the curry. I tend to soak and cook about 500g dried chickpeas in a large pan, which leads to around a kilogram of cooked chickpeas; I freeze the ones I don't want to use immediately in 200-250g portions for quicker use later on.

The cooking fluid of chickpeas is known as aquafaba, and when cooled can be used as an egg white substitute in various ways, or - as in this recipe - it can be added straight into a curry with the chickpeas for a little extra protein. If you're using canned chickpeas, check the ingredients: if only salt has been added, then you can use the surrounding liquid in the same way. There is no need to drain and rinse them. However if preservatives and other additives are present, you might want to wash them away and just use water.

I don't remember where we first found the recipe on which this curry is based; there are similar ones in many places online, but as with everything I make, this has been adapted several times to suit our tastes. I tend to use dried spices as they're more convenient, but for more authentic flavour you might prefer fresh grated ginger, and to adjust the amounts of spices. This is quite mild, but more ginger and chili powder will make it hotter.

You could add mushrooms instead of spinach, if you prefer them, although we quite like the blend of colours in this version. We've tried it with both, but it feels a bit 'fussy'.

We usually serve this with pitta bread but garlic naan, if available, is even better. Rice is a good alternative. We also usually serve several of the following in small pots to go with the curry: chopped tomatoes and cucumber, mango chutney, dried coconut, raisins, raw cashews, chopped apple, and sunflower seeds.


Chocolate Avocado Mousse

Chocolate Avocado Mousse
Serves 3-4

2 ripe avocados
20g cocoa powder
40g dark chocolate (dairy-free if required)
2 tblsp soft brown sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
pinch of salt
about 50ml nut or coconut milk

Melt the chocolate gently over a pan of hot water or in the microwave, stirring until it's just melted, then cool slightly.

Carefully cut open the avocados lengthways and remove the stones. Scoop out the flesh with a spoon and place it in a food processor or blender. Add the cocoa powder, sugar, vanilla and salt, and about half of the milk. Process until smooth. Don't be too concerned if it looks rather a vile colour at this stage.

Now use a metal spoon to fold the chocolate gently into the avocado mixture, with a little more milk if it feels a bit too stiff. When it's well combined, place in a suitable sized bowl and refrigerate for at least an hour or two.

We find that it goes very well with seasonal fruit such as strawberries or sliced peaches.

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With a dairy-free husband and son, I have been trying various dairy-free mousse recipes. And I came across a recipe for chocolate avocado mousse on the Chocolate Covered Katie blog and elsewhere. I have to admit that it didn't really appeal, but then avocados were in season, on sale ridiculously cheap, squashy enough that they had to be used within a few days.

So I tried it. Comments on a different recipe for this, using only cocoa powder, said that it was a bit dry and too strongly cocoa-flavoured. So the first time I used only dark chocolate - twice as much as in this recipe - and it was good, but a bit too sweet.

I don't use agave syrup so I substituted soft brown sugar and used a bit more nut milk. Doubtless very high fat, too. The picture shows the colour before I folded in the chocolate... and it's worse if, as above, you use cocoa powder in the first part as well.

The second time I made this, I used honey, as we're not vegans, and slightly less milk. I also tried using cocoa powder AND dark chocolate, as in the recipe above. And doubled the quantities, as there were five of us. We made it stretch over two meals. We thought it worked very well, particularly served with fresh strawberries.

My favourite home-made dairy-free milk for cooking is cashew milk, but this could be equally good with almond milk or coconut milk. Canned coconut milk would add some extra creaminess if you like a faint coconut flavour in chocolate desserts. If you're not vegan, you could probably use regular milk.

The great thing about this kind of recipe is that you can adapt it to your tastes. Avocados come in different sizes, so if, when you taste it, it's not chocolatey enough, just add a bit more cocoa powder. If it's too thick, add some more milk. If it's not sweet enough, add a little extra sugar.  If you don't like the appearance in a dish, drizzle over some melted chocolate, or scatter chocolate chips, or desiccated coconut, or slice strawberries.

And it's fun to challenge your guests to guess what the ingredients are...