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Vegetable Jalfrezi curry deliciousness at Eco Club

It’s March and we can just taste spring in the air, even if there is still snow at our feet. Greenhouse programming will be starting soon, which we are really excited about.

Meanwhile we at Green Thumbs are finishing up our winter programming in classrooms – Colour Me Healthy (a tasty nutrition workshop for grade 1 and 2), Food and Media (a critical look at food marketing workshop for grades 4 and 5), Design Your Own Garden (self-explanatory!), and Mystery Vegetable in A Box (an adaptation of Harvest Blanket from last year for the Kindergarten crowd – a great way for children that age to develop descriptive vocabulary).

This entry however is about cooking with the Eco Club. A couple weeks ago, a group of girls and I made apple crumble with maple syrup (and no sugar!), but I forgot to bring the camera. Thankfully, I didn’t forget this week as a group of four boys and one girl made vegetable jalfrezi, using Jamie Oliver‘s Food Revolution book (the British edition is called Ministry of Food) for recipe inspiration. The best part without a doubt was making the jalfrezi curry paste from scratch.

spice tray

According to this site, Jalfrezi, ‘Jal’ or ‘Jhal’ means spicy hot in Bengal, ‘frezi’ may be derived from Urdu meaning ‘to fry’ or ‘stir fry’. The beauty about curries is that there are so many different variations and nuances to the flavourings – one can adjust accordingly to what they have at their disposal and also their personal preferences! And the students definitely had their opinions about the outcome of our dish and what it should taste like.

We toasted coriander seeds, two types of mustard seeds (rai and sarson), fenugreek seeds and cumin in a little cast iron pan. N. was particularly vigilant hovering over the stove, giving the pan a shake. Him and P. took turns.

spice toasting
spice toasting close up

After which, the boys ground the toasted spices into a paste with ginger root, garlic from Winchester garden, green chilies from my garden, fresh cilantro, tomato paste, sunflower oil, turmeric spice, and even some fresh grated turmeric root. The boys in the group that were put in charge with that task worked furiously, needing to take turns using the mortar and pestle to rest. One boy had his fingers dyed yellow from the turmeric root but he didn’t seem to mind even when his friend teased him a bit about it.

vegetable prep for curry

The vegetables we chose to add to our curry were: cauliflower, canned tomatoes, onion of course, sweet potato, red pepper, more chilies, canned chickpeas, and an acorn squash – of which we toasted the seeds in oil and salt for a little snack while we waited for the food to come together. The chopping of vegetables took quite awhile even with K.’s, the only girl in the group, expertise. She helps her mother at home a lot. We also talked about our eating habits, as well as other food and non-food related subjects. Lots of laughs, impatience over waiting for the food to be ready, and interesting discussion for sure. P. kept getting up to stir the curry rather energetically, as though that would help the curry develop its flavour quicker, and also to make sure the vegetables were submerged equally in the sauce.

We adjusted the recipe as we went along tasting the tantalizing curry as it simmered. A little more chilies, more homemade curry paste and more butter! One student, N. kept insisting it needed more and more butter, and was very vocal about it. As did P., who has made curry before. And so we added a 1/3 of a cup of butter or so, although the recipe says to just add a pat.

Stirring ingredients into curry
simmering curry

The photos do not do the vegetable jalfrezi justice at all. In fact, we didn’t bother dressing up the dish for photos, and weren’t too upset that we burned the basmati rice. We were hungry and wanted to eat ASAP! Some of us added a heaping spoon of plain yogurt, more chilies, and a squeeze of lemon to kick it up a notch. S. added too many chilies and had to run out to get water to cool his mouth. A couple of us ate with our hands, scooping up the curry and rice with our fingers.

Vegetable jalfrezi with basmati rice

The smells were incredible and easily the best thing we made in Eco Club history so far – and not surprisingly, like previous sessions teachers and students stopped by in hopes we had leftovers. All the participating students were impressed with the outcome and commented on how much it tasted “like it came from a proper restaurant” or home. At the end of the session, one of the boys had his shirt covered in smudges of spices, and admittedly, I also had a couple splatterings of curry on my white shirt. “This is soooo good” and “This smells sooo good” were exclaimed over and over. The students were so happy that they asked if they could cook this dish for the rest of the Eco Club later or the school even.

I, for one, can’t wait to be using more garden produce from the school gardens and do more cooking and food literacy workshops as it gets warmer and warmer! Welcome spring!

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