VeganMoFo 2015: Day 6 – Recreating a restaurant meal

We didn’t eat out a huge amount when I was growing up. My mum made perfectly delicious and satisfying meals daily, and although we always sat down to dinner as a family, meals were utterly unceremonious: my parents would watch the evening news on the little TV screen at the end of the kitchen table, and neither of them seemed particularly concerned about the food itself. Dining out was reserved for the rare occasions my dad would socialise with friends and colleagues, and family occasions.

Vegan MoFo 2015

Apparently though, we ate out often enough, and in good enough restaurants, that I became quite blasé about high-level cuisine quite early on, and don’t have much memory of the dishes I ate themselves – save for a handful of dishes which, I suppose, must have particularly impressed me. As these dishes were never vegan and only rarely vegetarian, I’ll only share the less meaty ones.

One meal I remember with particular fondness was served to me at La Pomme Cannelle in Luxembourg. We ate there several times but I only remember one garnish and their eponymous cinnamon-apple dessert. I’d guess I’d have been about 8 or 9 years old, and about as picky an eater as I’d imagine would be fairly typical at that age. I’m not sure what happened come ordering time, but I think I basically “went off-menu” – not quite the done thing in that sort of establishment – and requested steak and chips. I remember my meal arriving: although I have absolutely no memory of the animal taking pride of place on the plate, my eyes fell immediately on the humble potato intended as a side. I remember my eyes going wide and a spot of confusion, as instead of the pile of slim fries I was expecting, I was presented with a small stack – think Jenga – of maybe 6 or 9 thick-cut chips. I’d love to tell you those were the best fries I’ve ever had or something, but that’s where my memory ends. Still, I think it’s pretty cool to see how a classy restaurant treats something as basic and accessible as fried potato.

While I haven’t attempted to recreate the dish for this challenge, I’d imagine Heston Blumenthal’s Triple Cooked Chips would be on the money.

La Pomme Cannelle

Photo from TripAdvisor, by reviewer desertorkid

My memory of the dessert is a little more detailed (obviously). I remember the cinnamon apple looking like a spaceship or like the cover illustration of The Gizmo by Paul Jennings – which I probably would have read around that time. Its surface was evenly dotted with multicoloured discs, as small hemispheres of the flesh had been scooped out and filled with hemispheres of other cooked fruit, or perhaps they were just scoops of the same apple that had been left to macerate in various juices and spices. Either way, it was colourful and steaming hot and tender and juicy and warm with cinnamon. The core had been tunnelled out and filled with a rich mincemeat filling.

I did, actually, vaguely attempt to recreate that dessert. I remember microwaving a cored apple, dousing it in cinnamon and probably brown sugar, but it lacked that depth and richness and tenderness that the restaurant version had. Years later, in my first year in London, one of my favourite late-night snacks became oven-cooked slices of bramley apple sprinkled with cinnamon and smeared with peanut butter (almond butter would have been so much better, but that was pre-almond butter days). Thankfully I didn’t attempt to take any photos of what might have been a record-shatteringly ugly dessert.

To be honest, I can’t say I have ever eaten something in a restaurant and thought, “Man, I’ve gotta make this at home!“. Either the food has been average-to-poor and I’ve thought that I could make it better myself (looking at you, Riverside Vegetaria!), or it has been so decadent or complex that I have known I would never attempt to recreate it (basically any savoury raw dishes, or Ethiopian – though a small but not insignificant part of me desperately wants to get hold of Kittee BernsTeff Love and eat Ethiopian food forever always).

BUT there was one time.

Last January, when we were in Australia, Ben and I picked up some lunch from the food court at Charlestown Square. We both opted for curry from Pakwaan Indian, and the food was good – surprisingly good for a food court curry – but Ben’s choice of Mango Chicken blew him away. Unfortunately I couldn’t partake, obviously, but he swore he would recreate a vegan version at home so we could all enjoy it.

It was the first we had heard of a mango curry, though by now I’m sure you have stumbled upon Richa Hingle‘s Vegan Mango Curry Tofu recipe. So Ben pulled together a recipe from scratch, and we had it for dinner maybe just a night or two after he had enjoyed it at the food court. A few days later, we made it again to share with my aunt who we were staying with. Over seven months later, the recipe is still a staple dinner, and though we make it slightly differently each time – and Ben and I make it different to each other – this is the gist of it:

KTC Kesar Mango Pulp

Ingredients (serves four… or two of me)

  • 1tbsp (15ml) oil
  • 1 onion, minced
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 package tofu (usually about 400g), diced
  • 1 can (400ml) full-fat coconut milk
  • 1tsp ground turmeric
  • 1tsp smoked paprika
  • 1tsp ground cumin
  • 1 medium-sized ripe mango, diced, or about 3-4tbsp mango pulp from a tin
  • dash of cider vinegar
  • 3-4tbsp mango chutney
  • salt to taste

Method (takes about 1 hour, depending on how patient and meticulous you are…)

  1. Heat the oil in a large pan over medium heat [a saucepan is ideal so you can cover it and leave it to simmer, or if you’re less patient like me then a huge frying pan is great for making things happen faster]
  2. Add the onions and garlic and cook until softened and translucent
  3. Add the tofu and toss until evenly browned
  4. Add coconut milk and leave to simmer, stirring occasionally [if you wander off to hang out the laundry you may need to add some water when you return to the pan, but it’ll still be delicious as long as nothing has gone black]
  5. Stir in the spices [no matter how gentle you are, your tofu will fall apart – it’s OK, it only gets tastier that way]
  6. Add the mango and stir thoroughly [if using mango pulp you can go ahead and add the rest of the ingredients; if using fresh mango you may want to let it simmer to break down all nice and juicy]
  7. Stir in the mango chutney and any salt you want, and leave to simmer until slightly reduced, nice and thick, and so fragrant you can’t wait any more.

Mango curry

Additions and substitutions

  • I like to add some spinach to my portion, and sometimes I manage to coerce Ben into adding some peppers. They can be added once the tofu has browned.
  • I’ve also made this with diced sweet potato and white potato. That gets added first and browned off before adding the tofu. If you’re impatient with the simmering process, just make sure you test the potato before you serve.
  • A handful of cashew nuts thrown in with the mango towards the end is never a bad idea.
  • You could use whole cumin seeds instead of ground cumin, just add them with the onion and garlic.
  • Note that I don’t use smoked paprika when I make this. I might add a touch of cinnamon or some chili flakes.
  • I’m sure you could use lemon juice instead of cider vinegar, or any vinegar you have on hand.

This curry is definitely best served with fluffy, chewy flatbreads for scooping up all the juices. Promise me you’ll try it that way! (if you’re avoiding bread or gluten, chickpea pancakes will work too – I use Angela Liddon’s generic recipe but you can use your favourite pudla or socca recipe)

Thank goodness we’re actually eating this tonight after a summer hiatus – it’s not really what I was craving on hot evenings – because my mouth is watering!