Mr E. P. Veerasawmy, founder of Veeraswamy’s in London’s Picadilly tells me that the molee is a “Southern Indian, Ceylon or Malay dish.” Perhaps he had trouble making his mind up, but as is the way with many dishes along trade routes, a little bit of this from there and a little bit of that from here often add up to make a dish that differs slightly in each place yet that everyone claims as their own.
He didn’t tell me this in person. He was promoting Indian food in England as early as 1896, long before my time, importing spices to his headquarters in Hornsey and generally trying to get people to make dishes produced outside of India as ‘authentic’ as dishes made inside. A little later, in the 1920s, he opened Veeraswamy’s — the name change being due to a printing error — and started serving currys to the glamorous Londoners who graced its Maharajan-style rooms up to 200 people at a time.
And look at us now. Veeraswamy’s is still going strong, the oldest surviving Indian restaurant in London, but it is far from being one of only a handful. He succeeded in his mission.
The copy of Verasawmy’s book that I have, a late ’60s paperback called ‘Indian cookery’ (shortened from it’s original 1935 title ‘Indian cooking for all countries’) says “the basis being cocoanut milk” should then use already cooked materials as a rule. This makes it a very quick curry to make and is especially useful if you have leftover chicken or some hard-boiled eggs you’re not quite sure what to do with. We usually make it at home using firm white fish and it’s a great favourite here. It’s the perfect curry to start children off down the road of spice discovery, being as mild as it is.
I’ve tweaked a few things, as I always seem to do, none more so than using cauliflower in place of thick chunks of cod or monkfish and I’ve added some toasted chopped almonds for a bit of crunch. As the children are not quite as tolerant of chilli heat as I am, I tend to leave the sliced green chillies out and serve them in a bowl on the side.
Florets cut from half a large cauliflower (I mean large. The one we bought from the greengrocers in Deal last week was the size of a child’s head)
1tsp black mustard seeds
Ghee or coconut oil if you want to make it vegan (more than you think is advisable under current NHS food guidelines)
Ground turmeric, about a tablespoon
12 paper thin slices of ginger
1 brown onion, medium-sized, finely chopped
1 large clove of garlic, not those mean little ones you get in a supermarket
4-6 cardamom pods, bright green and fresh looking rather than the ones that have been at the back of the spice cupboard for a year
4 cloves, almost pinky-brown in colour at their plump tips
A stick of cinnamon, slender and long, broken in half
About six fresh curry leaves
A tin of coconut milk or quarter of a block of creamed coconut dissolved in about 400ml of hot water
Green chillies and toasted flaked almonds to finish
Start by frying the cauliflower florets in some ghee with the mustard seeds and a large pinch of turmeric and salt until parts start to turn golden brown.
Add a good centimetre of boiling water to the pan and put a tight fitting lid on. Cook for another minute then turn the heat off.
In a separate pan, add some more ghee and gently fry the onions, garlic and spices until the onion is translucent. Add the curry leaves and stir well. Sometimes at this point I add a teaspoon full of freshly toasted and ground cumin seeds.
Cook for a minute then add the coconut milk and bring to the boil before turning down to a simmer and cooking for a few minutes more to thicken the sauce. It should be thick and rich rather than watery.
Add the cooked cauliflower and warm through then serve with the almonds and chopped chillies.