THE hard frost has stayed crisp and immovable outside all day, even under the bright glare of the sparkling winter sun. When temperatures are this icy, a spicy curry – offering heat in every sense – always beckons.

The seductive aroma alone, as the pan simmers gently through the afternoon, is enough to entice anyone who pops their head round the door. I often make a bit more than I need: this is partly because, in my experience, if you have a really good curry on the go, someone will often end up joining you for dinner. The excess in my curry pot is also because I am not always very good at judging the quantities and I often over-compensate. But that is not a problem: this dish is often even better the next day, once flavours have developed overnight. So, bring on the cold weather: I am happy pottering away in the kitchen, teasing wonderful depth from spices, letting them invade the room with their alien yet welcome fragrance and their hints of hotter climes.

Curry lends inexpensive ingredients the delicious glow of something far more expensive. Stewing cuts of lamb or beef are ideal, as are flavoursome chicken thighs. Extra vegetables can stretch a small amount of meat to feed more mouths, as can rice or breads. For an interesting change, or a less rich meal, try making fish the star.

Cod, fennel and green chilli curry

Recipes serve four

600g cod fillet, or other white fish, skin removed

2 red onions, peeled and sliced finely

2 green chillies

Half a cucumber, peeled

1 bulb of fennel

150g puy lentils

400ml coconut milk

100ml water

1 tsp coriander seeds

3 cardamom pods

a walnut-sized piece of fresh ginger

2 limes

A handful of basil leaves and coriander leaves


1. Place the coriander seeds in the bowl of a pestle and mortar, and crush until well ground. Alternatively, place them on a sturdy tray and grind with the base of a saucepan or frying pan. Once ground transfer to a small dish for now. Place the cardamom pods in the pestle and mortar, or on your tray and crush those gently, just to break the husk open. Open it fully with your fingers then tip out, and retain, the black seeds and discard the husk. Now grind the cardamom seeds and add to the coriander seeds.

2. Place the lentils in a pan of cold water (don't add salt). Bring to the boil, simmer for two minutes then drain.

3. Heat a heavy-based saucepan over a moderate heat. After one minute, add the crushed coriander and cardamom and warm for a minute until they release their aroma, do not overheat or they can burn. Now add a couple of spoons of vegetable oil, then the sliced red onion, season lightly with sea salt, then sweat for several minutes. Meanwhile, halve the fennel lengthways then trim out and discard the root. Slice the fennel in thin slivers and add to the onion. Continue to sweat for five more minutes.

4. Peel the ginger, grate it finely then add to the pan to soften for a few minutes.

5. Meanwhile, halve the chilli lengthways and scrape out the seeds. Slice the chilli finely and then add to the pot. Sweat for a few minutes.

6. Now stir in the lentils before adding the coconut milk and water. Bring to a simmer, cover with a lid and reduce the heat a little, then cook until the lentils are tender, about 25 minutes. If necessary, top up with a little water if the level evaporates too much.

7. Cut the fish into even-sized pieces about 2cm square. Season lightly with sea salt then add to the pan, making sure the fish is stirred in and covered with liquid. Poach for 8-10 minutes until cooked.

8. Meanwhile, halve the cucumber lengthways then scoop out the seeds with a teaspoon. Slice the cucumber in crescent shapes, 2mm thick. Add these to the pan and allow to warm and slightly wilt.

9. Using a microplane or fine grater, zest the limes into the pan then cut the limes in half and squeeze in the juice. Stir in gently; taste for seasoning. Shred the coriander and basil leaves, or tear by hand, add into the curry then serve at once.

Red lamb curry

2 dsstsps vegetable oil

1kg boneless lamb shoulder, cut into 1" pieces

Sea salt flakes

2 onions, thinly sliced

2 tbsps minced fresh ginger

2 garlic cloves, minced

1 tbsp Madras curry powder

1 tsp turmeric

1/2 tsp cayenne pepper

2 bay leaves

2 rounded dsstsps tomato puree

200ml plain yoghurt

2 cups water

1 tsp garam masala

Coriander leaves, for garnish

Basmati rice and warm naan, for serving


1. In a large, enamelled, cast-iron casserole, heat the oil. Season the lamb with salt and cook over high heat, stirring occasionally, until the lamb is browned, about 12 minutes; using a slotted spoon, transfer to a plate or bowl. Add the onions to the casserole and cook over moderate heat until lightly browned, four minutes.

2. Add the ginger, garlic, madras curry powder, turmeric, cayenne and bay leaves and cook for two minutes, stirring regularly so it doesn't brown or burn.

3. Add the tomato puree, yoghurt and water; stir well to combine, bring to a simmer. Season with a small amount of salt.

4. Return the lamb and any juices that have collected on the plate, to the casserole. Cover partially with a lid and simmer over a low heat until the lamb is very tender, about an hour. Stir in the garam masala and cook for five minutes. Discard the bay leaves. Garnish with coriander. Serve with rice and naan bread.

Geoffrey Smeddle is the chef patron of The Peat Inn, by St Andrews, Fife, KY15 5LH 01334 840206