Now, I'm not going to go on a big rant about the quality of NHS hospital food. Firstly, I'm actually a great supporter of the NHS and think that we are lucky that we don't have to shell out bucket loads for healthcare insurance as in the US and various parts of Europe. Secondly, the complaint has been made before by many patients, visitors and even celebrity chefs such as James Martin, Heston Blumenthal and of course the champion of all government-issued nosh, Jamie Oliver. We all know it's pants and we all wish it wasn't. However, what really offended me wasn't the look, taste or the fact it was served half-cold - it was the smell. I actually wouldn't have been surprised to see old ladies fainting on entering the ward during serving-up time and for a couple of hours afterwards. I don't know what the smell is - but I do remember something similar in school canteens. Maybe it's just the vast quantity of mushy vegetables, or the smell of powdered egg mixture in stainless steel containers. Whatever it is, it definitely doesn't encourage you to slurp up whatever has come your way.
So, I decided to cook up some alternatives so that the other half had something that smelled more like our kitchen at home to gobble out of sight of enquiring nurses. I had to think hard - it's over an hour's drive from our house to the hospital so it had to keep hot - but I came up with a cottage pie, which went down nicely, and then this vegetable curry dish, which went down even more nicely (I know - I shared it. Yum.)
Potato, cauliflower and tomato curryThis is a fairly dry curry (I couldn't have it slopping over the sides of the dish on the drive there!) so would work really well as a side dish to your main, or as a simple evening dinner on its own. This recipe makes enough for 4-5 sides and 2-3 mains.
1. Pour a generous glug of oil into a medium-hot pan
2. Add a heaped teaspoon of each of the following spices: cumin, black mustard seeds, fenugreek seeds, coriander seeds and garam masala
3. When the mustard seeds start popping (they literally jump so you can definitely tell), add two cloves of chopped garlic, a chopped onion, about an inch square of chopped ginger and a chopped chili to the pan, and fry for five minutes or until the onion and ginger are soft.
4. Add 8 or so new potatoes, chopped into fairly large chunks, a curry leaf and two crushed cardomom pods, and stir
5. When the potatoes are coated in the spices and onion mixture, add a tin of chopped tomatoes and a pint of vegetable stock.
6. Bring to the boil and simmer for 20 minutes, before adding the florets of half a cauliflower to the pan.
7. Simmer for another 15-20 minutes or until the cauliflower has cooked, stirring occassionally as by this time the water level will be fairly low.
8. Remove the curry leaves and cardomom pods before wrapping in several layers of foil and two teatowels, and driving to hospital
9. Enjoy the appreciative snuffly sounds coming from the other half with his nose in the pan, and dig in.