27 February 2024

Bright colours and punchy flavours

Posted by Terry Glover

The end of February always seems like an uphill slope: survival tactics are necessary. For me, bright colours and punchy flavours are a lifeline. I’ve been finding both in Thali: A Joyful Celebration of Indian Home Cooking by Maunika Gowardhan, a treasure trove of beautiful recipes that has been inspiring me at home and in the shop. The concept of thali – a large platter filled with small dishes, a feast of contrasting and complementary tastes – appeals deeply to my sensibilities, particularly at this time of year when variety and abundance can seem scarce.

One of the places that Maunika’s influence is showing up is in our wraps. My current favourite features spicy roasted cauliflower, roasted almonds, homemade achar carrot pickle, pickled cabbage, falafel and green leaves all bundled up into a spinach tortilla. It’s wholesome and hearty, zingy and spicy, the achar adding a lip-smacking warmth. A salty-sweet South Asian pickle made with brine mixed with spice-infused oil, achar is a staple in our repertoire at the Cake Shop kitchen. We make it year round, riffing on various recipes and ingredients, but right now its vibrant colour and intense tang make it the perfect antidote to the cold and drear.

Cauliflower is another really good February food. It’s super abundant at this time of year, and packed with plenty of vitamin C. Don’t be fooled by its mild reputation: cauliflower can take some serious spice, and develops a beautiful burnished char when roasted, a perfect balance of juicy and crisp. I rub ours through with tomato and turmeric paste, turmeric being another one of my survival secrets for dark days. I think of it as the sunlight replacer – those sweet, earthy base notes and peppery, musky hits of spice invoke warmth; vitamin D compensates for our daylight deficiencies; and anti-inflammatory properties, plus micronutrients B12 and E, bring a sense of well-being. We’ve been offering a turmeric tonic at the shop recently: we make a syrup with fresh turmeric, ginger root, lemon and bay, and add kombucha to serve. More than one customer has said they reckon that vodka would be a welcome addition – an idea that’s now on our list of things to try.

Reading fiction has also continued to provide me with a magical escape from the everyday. I’m currently reading Woman of Light by Kali Fajardo-Anstine, a multi-generational saga set in the mountains of the Old West. The main character is a tea leaf reader, which immediately drew me in, as did Fajardo-Anstine’s exploration of ancestral connections and stolen indigenous lands. Her descriptive storytelling poignantly evokes the lost landscape, transporting me out among the sage bushes, below the stars.

This week’s Apéro Hour takes place on Thursday, before the Hay festival’s sold out Welsh writers event at the Bookshop, which means that the menu will be based on traditional Welsh fare: Bara Brith with good salted butter; Caerphilly cheese; Welsh rarebit with laverbread. This is food that can also show us a thing or two about how to survive the cold weather with cheer. Drop by before the event for a refreshing pick-me-up, with small plates and alcoholic and non-alcoholic cocktails from 5.30 p.m.

Books mentioned in this blog post