Where I live there is a support group for those recovering from addiction which has proven so popular that they now run meetings every day. The endemic proportions of drug and alcohol abuse are miserable and lead those within their clutches down an horrendous slippery path which frequently sees them losing their jobs, homes, families and, depressingly often, their lives. In a move that was almost comical in its insensitivity the council granted permission for an empty retail unit next door to the group to be used to sell “legal highs”. It really would be funny if it weren’t so tragic.
The concept of a “legal high” amuses me because there are so many of them that surely they are not able to sell all of them in the one shop. Laughter, a meal with a friend, a hug, holding hands, smiling, a cup of tea, walking, kissing, getting into a clean bed, a hot shower…and so on. This morning I want to remind you of one such “legal high” that is probably the closest I ever get to addiction.
There is much anecdotal evidence to support the idea that chillies and spicy food in general makes you feel happier. I’m no scientist but I am led to believe that the capsaicin in a chilli has an impact on the receptors in the mouth’s lining which causes that burning sensation which can be so alluring. Over time the receptors in the mouth are depleted to the extent that you are able to eat hotter and hotter food (yes you can teach yourself to like chillies!) and also release endorphins which are the body’s natural painkillers and offer a direct route to wellbeing and feeling happier.
Sometimes only chillies will do and they are invariably a staple of the vegetable rack in our house. I was in the mood for something fast but impressive and nothing hits that spot quite like a homemade curry.
We can become fixated on the need to make curry properly but for me it can constitute either several hours of grinding spices and poring over recipes provided by those who know what they are doing, or it can be made with whatever I have in the house which provides a vague nod in the direction of its Indian heriatge. Tonight it is the latter.
I chop a medium onion, a thumb sized piece of fresh ginger , two hot chillies with their seeds and a couple of cloves of garlic and soften them in a little vegetable oil. While this is filling the kitchen with a pungent and irresistible aroma I grind up a tablespoon of cumin, the seeds from four black cardamon pods (make sure it is black cardamon because it has a taste completely different from the green ones), a teaspoon of fennel seeds and a good teaspoon of chilli powder. I add the spice mix to the now softened onions, garlic, chilli and ginger. After a couple of stirs I add the chicken and mix it around until it is covered in the onion and spice paste. In go two tablespoons of natural yoghurt and I leave it to simmer gently for five minutes.
I add half a tin of chopped tomatoes and leave it to bubble away quietly until the chicken is cooked.
As I watch the pot lazily bubbling and gurgling away I feel the need to add something green to contrast the colour. I don’t have curry leaves or spinach either of which would have done nicely. But at the farmers market that morning I had bought some weird and wonderful salad leaves some of which were a lace like dark green leaf with a strong peppery hit to contrast a wonderful grasslike freshness. I have no idea what they are but I add a few strands to the chicken and strew a few more on top.
Served with a pile of steaming white rice it is a joy to behold and devour.
You can keep your artificial highs. I have chillies and sometimes that is about as good as it gets.
2 cloves Garlic
Thumb sized piece of Ginger
Two chillies with their seeds (change as per your particular liking for chillies)
1 tbsp Cumin ( best to grind it yourself but ground is OK)
1 tsp Fennel
4 Black Cardamon pods (seeds extracted and crushed)
1 tsp Hot Chilli Powder
Two tbls Natural Yoghurt
200g Chopped Tinned Tomatoes
Something green to go in and on top – Baby spinach, Coriander, or something you cant identify which you bought at the farmers market works well 🙂