An attraction to the exotic started early in my childhood. At primary school, the pink territories of the British Empire covered the world map on the classroom wall. The adventures of Sinbad the Sailor and Gulliver’s Travels inspired our imaginations of other more colourful worlds. My Father had spent most of the war in Burma, with a brief sojourn in India to train troops. I poured over his photo album that bore pictures of tigers, elephants, and monkeys as well as a variety of young ladies. At home, the perfume of these far-away places seeped their way into the kitchen. For a time, my father’s ex-batman, a Ghurka, came to live with us, helping out in the garden, with the car, and on Sundays making fierce Burmese curries. I was too young to remember him, or his curries, but I do know his mix of spices never made it into my grandmother’s store cupboard. Pepper was the only spice on the larder shelves along with a blue and white tin of McCormick’s curry powder. Milder, Anglo Indian dishes, however, were a regular part of my parent’s diet. Kedgeree for breakfast, orange mulligatawny soup and devilled kidneys for light lunches and we children were expected to hand round bright yellow devilled eggs as canapés when visitors were present. Even these were considered too spicy for young stomachs, so our taste of the exotic was limited to my grandmother’s curried eggs. A light curry sauce, thickened with onions pulled from the vegetable patch, windfall apples collected from the orchard, and a handful of plump sultanas were eked out by a hardboiled egg or two. Never more than one per person and served with plain boiled rice.
Ghana was the next stop on my spice road. Arriving in the late 60s, with a very limited ability to cook, I was completely at the mercy of our Ghanaian cook boy Sam. Sam had been cooking for the expatriate English for a number of years and knew what was expected. At first, he did most of the marketing and all of the cooking. Shepherd’s pie – probably made with goat, scrawny roast chicken and tinned fruit salad appeared at regular intervals on our table. Entertaining, however, was altogether a different matter. Sam was eager to show off his prowess by providing a table laden with curry and rice and as many accompaniments that he could possibly think off. Desiccated coconut, sliced banana, salted peanuts, raisins, or fried onion, the wider the variety of side dishes provided, the higher the rating of the cook boy. As it was all washed down with a local beer or two, I’m not sure how much we were able to judge. There was also a competition between the expats as to who could eat the hottest curry. Those of you who have tried will know, that drinking more beer doesn’t help a palate burning with chili pepper. What does help is if that curry is eaten covered with a variety of sides. Slices of banana score highly here at cooling the fiercest of spices.
On my travels around the world, I was introduced to many other dishes spiked with a wide variety of spices. Indonesia and Amsterdam with their rijsttafels, lhaksas in Singapore and a seasoning mix that goes into the majority of Haitian food called Epis – make that with a scotch bonnet or two and it will blow your head off.
By the time I returned to England for good, the curry houses had long been replaced by restaurants differentiating between regional cooking, baltis from the Punjab, thalis from the south and fish curries from Goa and Kerala. These distinctions have only served to highlight the very Anglo-Indian concept of my childhood egg curry.
When I make an egg curry today, it’s spicier, on the hot side even, as my teaspoons tend to be heaped. I don’t have any set vegetables that I include, although onion is a given, carrots, fennel, peas, peppers and tomatoes all work well. But I never forget to add an apple and a handful of sultanas, in memory of my grandmother. How many accompaniments you include is up to you, but I would recommend banana slices. This is the only time I ever add fruit to a savoury dish or use banana in anything, as I generally dislike the flavour and texture, but, somehow it seems to be a perfect accompaniment to Voodoo Eggs.
Preparation Time 4hrs – or make the day before, many spice-laden sauces improve if left to steep. Will feed a hungry two.
1 onion finely chopped
1 small carrot finely chopped
1 apple finely chopped
2 garlic cloves smashed
6 cherry tomatoes halved
2 heaped tsps of frozen peas
Heaped dessert spoon of ghee (butter can be used)
1 level dessertspoon of curry powder
1 heaped tbsp of wholemeal flour
1tsp of chili powder
1tsp of garam masala
juice of 2 limes
1 tbs of sultanas
400ml of vegetable stock
1 tbsp of chutney
Hard boil the eggs for approx. 8 mins. Plunge them straight into cold water and remove the shells under a running tap. Cool in cold water, or the fridge.
Meanwhile, make the sauce. Melt ghee in a heavy based pan and sauté all the spices for 1-2 mins. Blend in the flour to make a thick paste. Add the onion, carrots, garlic and apple, cook gently for two minutes stirring all the time. Gradually stir in the juice of two limes and vegetable stock until quite smooth. Add the tomatoes, the tablespoon of chutney and a pinch of salt. Cover and simmer for 45 mins, add peas and return to simmer on low heat for another 20 mins.
Place the hard-boiled eggs in a pan, cover with sauce and leave too steep for 2 to 3 hrs.
To go the whole hog, serve with plain boiled rice and as many extras as you like, grated coconut, grated toasted coconut, salted peanuts, fried onions, raisins, sliced bananas tossed in lemon juice, cucumber sticks in a white wine vinegar, chopped avocado tossed with lemon juice. The list is endless.