Today, 29th September is Michaelmas. I learned this equally from the wonderful Steiner School Kindergarten and late night forays of distraction into River Cottage repeats. Itâ€™s traditionally a festival for marking the change in seasons and of gathering the harvest to provide for the winter ahead; more recently it celebrates the role of the archangel Michael as dragon-slayer. As the long days of summer draw into the dark nights of winter, itâ€™s apparently an opportunity to confront our own â€˜inner dragonsâ€™ and finding the light and courage to see us through to spring .
It got me to thinking â€“ yes, my thought-processes are often tenuous in the extreme â€“ about the importance food plays in nurturing, giving comfort and offering a focus for a social occasion. It has always been the case in Bangladesh! Never have I eaten so much, so well, and given with such generosity as I have with both friends and strangers from Dhaka to Bhola. Of course, some offerings â€“ the crown of the rooster, fish larvae, cowsâ€™ brains â€“ are once in a lifetime â€˜treatsâ€™, others I would come back to again and again, and itâ€™s often the simplest of foods.
Hereâ€™s a menu, and a â€˜toss it in and seeâ€™ sort of recipe for a breakfast feastâ€¦
POTATO & PAPAYA CURRY
Take a green-skinned papaya (the flesh is firmer) and a couple of potatoes and chop them into equal sized pieces. Fry some garlic, onion, turmeric and any other spices you fancy/are to hand, add the potato til cooked through, then toss through the papaya. Itâ€™s a dry curry that is perfect eaten with roti (chapati).
2 handfuls rice
1 handful red lentils
1 handful any green leaf vegetables
couple of tablespoons of oil
water as required
You can also add in onion, garlic, ginger, tumeric and saltâ€¦ and some versions include egg or meat or chicken.
Itâ€™s trial and error: heat the oil and coat the rice, add in the lentils, start to add the water â€“ and keep stirring. Keep adding more water as the rice and lentils absorb it and once they are more or less soft and cooked, stir in the leafy veg
A big spoon of black tea per person, add boiling water, add boiling condensed milk (sweetened of course) and more sugar to taste (yes, really) and serve very hot and strong â€“ it should be caramel brown and almost able to hold a spoon upâ€¦ The faint-hearted can have â€˜rawâ€™ tea i.e. omit the condensed milk.
Okay, itâ€™s Jamie (on an off day) rather than Nigella but even when it all goes wrong, the aroma wafting through the kitchen is the perfect way to imagine yourself in Bangladesh - and definitely sufficient to slay those dragons!