I’ve been away for a while, but quarantine and enforced ‘down-time’ has been the perfect opportunity to get this blog UP AND RUNNING again. Which is great, because I love doing it. Now I’m back in the U.K I want to speak to people closer to home, food producers, growers, activists, friends and family. Anyone really, so long as they love talking about food and cooking.
The first to start are two of my oldest friends, Charlie and Oli, A.K.A the Broma Boys. Inspired by Oli’s version of a healthy hot chocolate he’d been making, the school friends got together and in 2018 launched ‘Broma’, a chocolate sauce that’s made of raw cacao, date syrup and not much else. The recipe they’ve chosen to share here is not a Broma one though (if you want that then their website has loads of great recipes), but a delicious (and also super healthy) curry that was synonymous with ‘the early days’ of setting up their business.
Charlie has always been the cook. Amongst my groups of friends, he mans the BBQ, cooks Christmas dinner and makes the feast happen. Being able to eat food together is one of the things he loves most about cooking and he has fond memories of Sunday roasts with his family, always accompanied with a tiny tumbler of wine.
By 16 Charlie was at catering college, which he has the head chef from his local pub to thank for. He (the chef) was “a proper old school chef, one of those guys who would put the steak in a microwave if someone sent it back saying it was undercooked”. In between washing-up Charlie started doing more of the food prep, and by the time one summer was up he had decided to give cheffing a go.
Since then, cooking took Charlie all over the world, including a six-month stint in a Japanese restaurant in New Zealand, and more bizarrely, Chef de Partie on the Remy Restaurant aboard the Disney Dream liner. Cruising back and forth between the Bahamas and a Caribbean island formerly owned by Pablo Escobar, Charlie would fillet halibut twice the size of him, or prep Matsusaka beef from Japan for special Wagyu tasting evenings.
Oli comes from a family of culinary entrepreneurs. His Granny was an excellent cook, and together with his Grandpa, ran a successful hotel in Norfolk called the Poachers Pocket. The food there was very traditional, using British ingredients, home-grown veg and lots of game. Oli remembers the massive fry-ups they would have when they stayed, with chipolatas and fried potatoes leftover from the night before.
Oli’s mother, another excellent cook (thanks to his granny), was who he learnt most of his cooking from. She was also adventurous and Oli remembers one year “removing the beaks from about 100 baby squid” because his mum was cooking a Japanese themed Christmas dinner. Although not a blood relative, his aunt Jane is also the founder of Mildred’s, the popular veggie restaurant in London.
It’s perhaps not surprising then that the two of them decided to set up a food business together. For a number of years before they launched Broma, Oli had invented his own ‘healthy hot choc’ at home, by combining raw cacao, honey and a whole date with heated milk. It was the go-to for him when he wanted something sweet but didn’t want any of the carbs or sugar. But it was Charlie, with his chef training, who was able to refine the product into what you can now find on the shelves of Whole Foods or Planet Organic.
Broma didn’t start on the shelves. Much of the early days was spent freezing their asses off at markets, serving hot choc to merry Christmas shoppers. They learnt a few lessons on the way, like remember to always bring lights, gazebo sides and enough paper cups to an outdoor market. Or working out that the two days spent making homemade turmeric, cacao, beetroot, and vanilla marshmallows for their hot chocolate, wasn’t worth it.
Some of the flavour combinations they tried at the beginning were also pretty adventurous, including chocolate sauce with wasabi, another with lemon thyme, or their personal fave, chocolate sauce with goats cheese. All these were rustled up in Charlie’s Bristol flat, which swiftly turned from test kitchen to factory once they perfected the recipe. A couple of occasions Charlie was sat in the spare room working when he would see a large lorry roll up the small street, dump a pallet of date syrup onto the road and then drive off, “luckily I had an understanding girlfriend and a spare room” he jokes as we talk about it.
At the end of a day of cooking and processing, Charlie would knock up a curry and many an evening was spent in the flat going over the early business plan and preparing for the markets ahead. In fact, curry seems to be the thing they do together; last year’s Christmas party was two bottles of champagne in a BYO curry house on Brick Lane. So it seems fitting that the recipe they have shared with me is a curry, one of the ones that they used to eat together in ‘the early days’, swilled down with a well-deserved beer to quell the nerves and excitement for times ahead.
Butternut Squah Rogan Josh
Serves 4 and best served with plain basmati, or quinoa (if you forget to get basmati rice….)
- 1/2 medium butternut squash, halved lengthways, deseeded and diced
- 1 heaped tsp cumin seeds
- 1 small brown onion
- 1 large garlic clove, finely chopped
- 50g (XL nugget) fresh ginger, grated/finely chopped
- 1 heaped tsp garam masala
- 1/2 tsp ground turmeric
- 1/2 tsp chilli flakes
- 1 bay leaf
- 3 tins (400g each, 1200g total) chopped toms
- 4 cardamon pods, bashed
- 1/2 cinnamon stick, bashed
- 4 cloves
- Large handful of fresh spinach
Coconut yoghurt topping. Mix the following together and dollop on top when curry is served.
- 250g coconut yoghurt (I like Coyo as it’s thick and creamy)
- 1 lime, juice and zest
- 1 small garlic clove, crushed
- handful of chopped coriander, leaves and stalks
- pinch of salt
- Toss the sliced butternut squash in a large baking dish with the cumin seeds, drizzle of oil and salt. Roast at 200C until soft and edges are brown, tossing occasionally to ensure even cooking.
- Whilst squash is cooking, peel and roughly chop the onion. Place in a food processor/blender and blend to rough puree.
- In a large pan cook in a generous glug of oil/ghee on a medium heat stirring frequently until it’s a deep golden brown. This is the most important bit of the recipe and its important the onions caramelise properly, so if the onion is browning too quickly, deglaze the pan with a little water so they don’t catch on the bottom. This may take up to 20mins.
- Add the ginger and garlic, cook out for a couple of minutes.
- Add the garam masala, turmeric and chilli flakes, cook out for a further minute.
- Throw in the tin toms and bay leaf.
- Tie the cardamon, cinnamon stick and cloves in a piece of muslin/jay cloth and add to the tomato mix.
- Cook out on a low/medium heat, stirring occasionally to ensure it doesn’t stick to the bottom of the pan, until the sauce has reduced and become thicker and the “raw” tomato taste has gone and it has taken on a deeper flavour. (may take up to an hour)
- Once it’s reached this stage, turn the heat off and add salt to taste and if it needs it, coconut sugar (some tin toms are more bitter than others). Now add the fresh spinach, you want it to wilt slightly but keep its fresh green colour.
- Add the cooked squash and allow to rest with the lid on to allow it to cool and flavours to come together before serving with rice and coconut yoghurt.