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At the exact moment that winter arrived, my heating broke. Obviously this was happening to people all over Canberra, as every heater-fixing business was booked up for a fortnight. Luckily I had a week off and could escape to the coast, where it was 10 degrees warmer, but I came home to a minus 5 degrees Celsius morning and a house that was teeth-chatteringly cold.

While I waited for the day the heating wizard was booked to come, I decided there was nothing for it but to wrap up in a blanket and cook hot, spicy, carbolicious food. If you’re warm on the inside, you’re warm on the outside, right? And slaving over a hot stove warms you up too. Just make sure the blanky doesn’t get too close to the hotplates …

Here are my two tummy-warming faves from this week. These dishes together would serve three quite generously. They’re gluten-free. You can mess around with the quantities and spices to suit your taste. I was channelling Marilyn Monroe (Some Like It Hot) so I went for maximum spice. (Note to self: best not to take photos while curry is steaming hot.)

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Green rice with paneer

  • 1/2 cup basmati rice (or use 1 cup if you want a milder curry)
  • 200g block of paneer cheese
  • 1/2 cup raw cashews
  • 1 bunch English spinach or kale or Tuscan kale or silverbeet (I used Tuscan kale)
  • 1 lemon
  • 2 tomatoes or 8 cherry tomatoes
  • 2 teaspoons ground coriander
  • 2 teaspoons paprika (or 1 teaspoon if you want a milder curry)
  • 1 teaspoon cumin seeds
  • 1 teaspoon yellow mustard seeds
  • 1 teaspoon nutmeg
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 2 dessert spoons of coconut sugar (or soft brown sugar or palm sugar—whatever you have)
  • olive oil

Cut the paneer into 1cm cubes and shallow fry it in a splash of olive oil until lightly browned. Remove from the pan and set aside. Shallow fry the cashews in the same pan until lightly browned. (Keep an eye on them as they can catch and burn easily.) Remove any tough stalks from the kale or spinach and chop the leaves roughly. Chop the tomatoes into smallish chunks.

In a large saucepan heat the cumin seeds, mustard seeds and sugar in another splash of oil until the seeds start to pop. (Just a couple of minutes, if you’ve got the heat up.) Add the rest of the spices, the rice, the tomatoes and the spinach and give it all a good stir. Pour in just enough water to cover the mixture. If you’ve used a full cup of rice, you’ll need about two cups of water. Half a cup of rice needs only one cup of water. Stir it all again then put the lid on and turn the heat down to a low simmer. Leave it to cook, covered, for about 15 minutes.

Next, squeeze the lemon and add the juice to the pan. Give everything another stir. Test the rice to see if it’s still slightly chewy. (If the curry is sticking to the bottom of the pan, add a splash or two of water.) At this point, if you have an electric cooktop you can turn it off and leave the mixture to steam with the lid on for another five minutes or so until the rice is cooked through. Last but not least, stir the paneer and cashews through the cooked rice and spinach. The combination of tastes and textures in this dish is sublime. Serve with a dollop of plain yoghurt on top and with a side of garam masala spuds if you’re going for the full carb experience.

Garam masala spuds

  • five medium potatoes, scrubbed or peeled and chopped into 2cm-ish pieces
  • 2 teaspoons garam masala
  • 1 teaspoon turmeric
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried chilli flakes (1/4 teaspoon if you want it milder)
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • glug of olive oil

Put the potatoes in a large saucepan, cover with water and bring to the boil. Cook until tender. Drain then put back in the pan and shake them around to fluff the edges. This will make them crispier. In a frying pan heat the glug of oil and add the spices and potatoes. Cook over a high heat and shake the pan frequently so that everything gets coated in oil and spice. When the potatoes are crispy and well-coated, they’re ready!

By now you should be warm enough not to notice that the heater’s broken. Bon appetit!

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