Sometimes, words completely fail me. Last week was one of those times, as more and more footage of the Japanese earthquake and tsunami came tumbling in, and news of the nuclear threat worsened all the time.
We ate dinner each night with images of those poor shell-shocked people before us, or in our minds. Last night, as we sat down to yet another nourishing, pleasurable meal, safe in our comfortable house, I learned with horror that radioactivity had now been found in milk and spinach and drinking water near the Fukushima plant.
This seemed to me far more dreadful than radioactivity in the air. One one level my response doesn’t make sense, I guess, except that if the whole ecosystem becomes contaminated, the implications of the disaster are beyond terrible.
More personally though, I suppose my response shows how much I associate food with comfort and sustenance, even – or perhaps especially – at times of grief and trauma. Of course I am never likely to experience anything remotely on the scale of what those poor people are suffering now, and can’t identify with an iota of what they’re going through. But my strong instinct is that the body must be cared for as gently as possible while the mind finds a way, somehow, to respond to such utter catastrophe. If the food supply is tainted, the very concept of physical nourishment is threatened, no matter how low the actual level of immediate harm involved. It’s an unbearable thought.
The only thing I can think of to say about food that isn’t utterly trivial right now is that once again, we who have plenty must be thankful for our luck. For the fresh, natural, good food we have, the safety in which we eat it, the pleasure it brings us.
Last night I made this spicy chickpea and cashew curry, and was grateful for the sustenance of it, and the reminder of how fortunate we are.
Spicy chickpeas with cashew
- 1 onion, finely chopped
- 3 cloves garlic, finely chopped
- 5cm piece ginger, finely chopped
- 1-2 chillies, sliced
- 2 tsp cumin
- 1 tsp turmeric
- 1 tsp fennel seeds
- ½ tsp brown mustard seeds
- 3 curry leaves
- salt, to taste
- 5cm piece red capsicum, julienned
- 2 baby eggplants, sliced
- few leaves cavolo nero or silverbeet, chopped
- 1 x can chickpeas, drained & rinsed
- a few pieces of paneer (or feta) cheese, or a few dollops of yoghurt
- 100g cashews, toasted
- garnish – coriander leaves, lime juice
1. Gently fry onion, garlic, ginger & chilli with spices for a few minutes in vegetable oil until vegetables are translucent and spices fragrant.
2. Raise the heat and add eggplant, capsicum, spinach and fry, stirring, till tender. Add a little water or stock as you go to create a sauce.
3. Add drained chickpeas and the paneer or yoghurt and stir to combine well. If you can leave the curry for half an hour or so at this point the flavours will develop a little.
4. Just before serving stir through the toasted nuts, add chopped coriander leaves and perhaps a squeeze of lime.
5. Serve with basmati rice and a good fruit chutney.