Viewed from the kitchen table, the bright red flowers of the scarlet runner beans stand out against their climbing foliage. An impossibly cheerful shade of red, and a gorgeous thing to wake to. I have of late been consciously sitting myself right here looking out over the fledgling garden at breakfast. A book, my journal, a favourite pen and a pot of fragrant green tea my dining companions; a bowl of muesli with home-made rice milk and blueberries or a slice of these wonderful breakfast bars are regulars on the menu.
Breakfasting is something new, something of a work in progress. A slower, gentler beginning to the day. Still, my anxious nature, twitchy legs and fingers struggle to stay still for the full half hour. This solitary meal is good, I tell my legs, good for the soul. My organised parents (she a tidy virgo, he an earthy capricorn) set the breakfast table, properly, each night before they go to bed. For years this ritual has baffled me, their leonine, misfit daughter. Breakfast, mine, has always been scoffed hurriedly, flying out the door. Why someone who spends a large amount of time thinking about the importance of eating well would ignore a meal so intrinsic to well-being is quite baffling. So, I’m learning to give myself time to wake, think and organize the day over a little nourishing breakfast. And slowly, slowly, the early morning chatter in my head is beginning to quiet, just a little.
Reading books over breakfast (as opposed to reading emails) is becoming an integral part of the self-prescribed therapy that chatter requires. A neat pile of books now sits on a corner of the kitchen table, a version, I guess, of my parent’s table-setting ritual. Writing in her exquisite, enviable style, Marion Halligan’s memory of a warm weather Christmas lunch – a huge platter of fresh, glistening prawns eaten with thin slices of dense black bread, lemons and lashings of butter, washed down with cold, cold white wine - read over this morning’s breakfast got me thinking. Not of Christmas food, though there will be some of that in the weeks to come. Rather it’s made me aware of a need in December for things that, like a generous, elegant, festive platter of prawns, can be prepared with a minimum of fuss. ‘Do I really need another potato salad recipe?’, I hear you ask. I think so highly of this delicious Nepalese street food that you may feel, as I have discovered, that yes, you do.
A spoonful of leftovers, raided at the entirely inappropriate time of 7am one Saturday morning, confirmed Madhur Jaffrey’s instruction to make it well ahead of time. It’s good after two hours, but better after twelve and will keep for up to 3 days. It’s a brilliant, multi-seasonal, make-ahead potato salad. God, it’s good. I serve it with pan-fried fillets of silver-skinned garfish, dredged in rice flour, made by grinding black rice to a powder, a tablespoon at a time, in a spice grinder - a sensational combination.
Nepalese potato salad (Aloo Achaar) for 4
Adapted, slightly, from this book.
This quantity can be doubled, tripled, even quadrupled easily. Four chillies may seem like a lot (it is) but the heat mellows a little on standing. Feel free to use one small green capsicum (pepper) in their place. Lots of vitamin E from the sesame seeds and vitamin C from the chillies.
6 medium-sized waxy potatoes (Desiree or Nicola are good)
4 tablespoons of sesame seeds
Juice of 4 lemons
1 teaspoon of sea salt
2-4 green chillies (see above), finely minced
4 tablespoons of macadamia or sesame oil (NOT the dark, toasted stuff)
Pinch of asafoetida powder
10 fenugreek seeds
1 bunch of coriander (cilantro), chopped
Place the potatoes in a saucepan of cold water and bring to the boil. Simmer for 20-25 minutes, or until tender all the way through when speared with a skewer.
Meanwhile toast the sesame seeds in a small frying pan, tossing constantly, until they are golden. Watch them like a hawk – they burn in the blink of an eye. Cool on a plate then grind to a powder, either in a mortar and pestle or a spice grinder.
Combine the ground sesame seeds, lemon juice, salt and chillies in a large ceramic bowl. Slowly whisk in 3 tablespoons of the oil with a fork until creamy and well amalgamated.
If you have a gas stove, warm the remaining tablespoon of oil in a metal ladle directly over a low flame. If you don’t have gas, a small saucepan over a high heat works just as well, if not a little less dramatically. When the oil is hot (moments) tip in the asafoetida and fenugreek seeds and as soon as the fenugreek seeds darken, remove from the heat and whisk into the sesame seed emulsion. Add the chopped coriander, mix well and set aside.
When the potatoes are cooked, peel them while they are still hot, using a tea towel to protect your hand. Dice the potatoes into 2 cm (¾ inch) chunks. There’s no need to be too precise here. Toss, gently, in the sesame dressing while still hot. Cool, cover and refrigerate until serving. Best eaten at room temperature.