This blog is a little different from the others. It’s not about a specific place or event; instead, it’s about relationships and food.
Traveling to the UK in 2013 with an 11 month old baby was a daunting prospect. In my heart of hearts I knew it was the right thing for our family, but starting over, without a network is always a leap of faith. Starting over on an entirely new continent is doubly so.
After arriving in the UK, I found myself isolated and lonely. In Washington, I had an amazing network of friends who helped me keep sane after leaving my career and giving birth. I knew that at any hour of the day or night, someone would be awake to chat, visit, or help me keep sane. Initially when we moved to the UK, we lived in Greenwich; home of Greenwich Mean Time (GMT). In fact, we lived across the street from the park where the clock measuring GMT was situated. It was an awesome house and an awesome park. Unfortunately, it was not in our budget. Corporate housing was appreciated, but with my husband’s commute surpassing two hours each way, we knew it just wasn’t an option to stay in that area.
After about a month, we moved to Surrey; specifically, Horsell, Surrey. The house wasn’t exactly what we wanted and the location wasn’t great, but it was only a 45 minute commute and they accepted pets. You take what you can get. What I had not expected, but discovered, was that socializing in England is a lot different from Washington. People don’t just walk up and strike up a conversation. If they do, that conversation rarely develops into a second conversation or a lasting friendship. It took me one month in Horsell to make a friend. To this day, my closest friend since leaving my home country. We met at the local playground and thankfully lived just a block apart on High Street. That’s right, we lived on the High Street. This was not nearly as glamorous as it sounds. Each town and village has a High Street; ours had a few small takeaways, one or two sit down restaurants, a couple charity shops, and a bakery. Oh, there were a couple more businesses, but this should give you the idea that it wasn’t overly grand.
Nancy is the amazing woman who befriended me. She has a son, Sameer, who is only one month younger than my son and full of life. All those wonderful gifts that friends share, she shared with me. Long chats, hot tea, tasty biscuits, good hugs; all of them. Another wonderful gift she gave me were some of the most delicious meals I had during my time in the UK. After discovering my allergies at a late age, I had to give up some of my favorite foods. One such category of food was Indian. Generally, Indian food is heavy on tomato and dairy; at least the Indian food I always ate. I still remember our first dinner at Nancy’s. The food was entirely vegetarian; fluffy rice, savory daal, delicious vegetable medley…I didn’t miss the meat at all. Even better? It was made with my food sensitivities in mind.
After we moved to Sweden, I had a big problem. No more of Nancy’s cooking!! My rice was gummy; I was miserable; my son was miserable… He flat out refused to eat most of my cooking; demanding that I bring Nancy to Sweden and have her make the last dish she had made him. Thanks to WhatsApp, Nancy was able to broadcast that recipe to me post haste. Sadly, apparently my cooking isn’t as good as Nancy’s 😛 My son actually refused to eat my first attempt and only nibbled on the second. Finally, on my third attempt, victory!!! He ate every bite.
You may be wondering by now if Nancy is a trained chef or worked in restaurants. She’s not and she didn’t. Actually, she trained in fashion design and when we met, had recently left her career to focus entirely on caring for her young son. Before moving to the UK, Nancy grew up in a small town called Fatehabad in India. Luckily for me, her mum and grandma ensured cooking was part of her early home life. Her lessons in the kitchen didn’t emphasize exact recipes. Instead, they emphasized that good tasting food could be ensured by preparing it with love. My initial attempts failed because I was missing this key point. I was so focused on proper proportions and ingredients that it became mechanical. My son could tell it wasn’t made with that love. The final time, I was focused on making something he would find nurturing and delicious. I channeled that love into the dish, and it was finally a success. This is my take on Nancy’s take of her mum’s dish. She didn’t give me a proper name or even exact proportions; so I’ve taken a few artistic liberties, including the name 😃 I strongly encourage you to add it to your rotating menu. It is delicious, nutritious, inexpensive, and all around wonderful.
Nancy’s Veg Yum (Serves 2-3)
As you can see, I am taking liberties with the title 😃
You don’t need a lot of ingredients for this. Feel free to be flexible with the ones you do use. My version is very mild. Nancy toned it down for me, but tends to make things even more flavorful for her own family. Feel free to tailor it to your own preferences.
- Basmati Rice — 1 cup
- Vegetable Oil — 2-3 Tbsp
- Mustard Seeds — 1/4 to 1/2 tsp
- Potatoes — 3-4 smallish
- Frozen Mixed Veg — 1 bag
- Tumeric — 1/2 to 1 tsp
- Curry Leaves (about 6, optional)
- Full fat coconut milk or regular milk and/or evaporated milk… — 1 can or 12 oz (approximately)
Component 1: Rice
Anyone who has enjoyed Indian food in restaurants will remember the signature basmati rice. It is fluffy and light, not at all clumpy or sticky. Never in my life have I been successful with basmati…until now.
- Rinse 1 cup basmati rice in cold water until it runs clear (at least mostly clear), then drain out the cold water.
- Add very hot tap water to the rice and allow it to soak for 20 minutes. Drain.
- Place the rice in a pan with 2 cups tap water and bring to a light boil. I use a sauté pan for this because it is how Nancy prepared it when I visited.
- Reduce heat to low and cover the pan.
- Simmer for 20 minutes.
- Remove rice from heat and leave covered for 10 additional minutes.
Component 2: Veg topping
- Heat 2-3 Tbsp oil in a pan.
- Add mustard seeds according to preference. I use about 1/4 tsp because I like my food mildly spiced. You can definitely use more. They will start to pop. This is okay.
- When the popping of the mustard seeds slows down, add diced potatoes to the pan. I use 3 to 4 yellow potatoes, the equivalent of about 1 large Idaho spud.
- After sautéing to soften the potato a bit, add a bag of frozen mixed veg.
- To that, add about 1/2 to 1 tsp tumeric, and about 2 tsp salt.
- Add 1 can coconut milk and/or 1.5 cups regular milk to make a sauce.
- Reduce for a few minutes to thicken sauce to your preference.
Spoon over rice. Dinner is served.
This is a very versatile recipe. I find 4 small potatoes and one bag veg works well for a light dinner for our family of 3. You will want more for hearty appetites. My son’s favorite part are the potatoes, so it is always good to add extra. This recipe would also be a great way to use up old veggies in the fridge too, you will just need to cut them to bite size and sauté them with the potatoes to ensure they are fully cooked. My best version of this recipe incorporated 1 can of full fat coconut milk and a generous splash (1/8 cup) of evaporated milk that was leftover in the kitchen. It took away some of the sweetness from the coconut milk. I also made the choice to add curry leaves to my dish, as I frequently watched Nancy use them. I add them with the potatoes and use about 6-10 leaves. In the States, I never had occasion to use this ingredient, so I do not know where you can buy it. I do think it adds a lot of dimension to dishes and is worth having in the kitchen.
I hope you try out this recipe and that when you make it you get to experience a bit of the joy it brings me. My early time in the UK was very lonely, but once I found Nancy, my life became brighter. While she is not close, cooking her recipes makes the distance feel not so far.
Until next time…