Food is as much for nourishment as it is for pleasure. I must have written this line in several other food memoirs, but it truly is the key to a lot of my happiness.When I am feeling down there are several foods that really warm me up; a range of simple yet decadent and wholesome, or even fast foods can make a substantial difference in my mood, making me feel happy and whole again. You must have your own favourites that make you feel happy and whole.
Think about that feeling of warmth and happiness from a mouthful of lovely pie with flaky pastry falling all over. In my case, my childhood weekend breakfast is one I keep going back to. It was a typical English fry up, with sausages, bacon, baked beans with a selection of toast and the addition of fied plantain or boiled yam and corned beef sauce. This is the quintessential Nigerians-British breakfast and I ate all of it with lots of ketchup on the side.
Now I seem to combine all my memories of happiness in the most interesting dishes, like my plantain pie which I made after a really gruelling weekend in London.
I had made meat pies for a group of 60, more English in its crusty dough and spicy with curry, potatoes and carrots like in Nigerian meat pies with the addition of wonderful grains of paradise. A West African native spice with all the warmth of black peppper, cadammon, nutmeg and cloves combined.
Grains of paradise have outshined black pepper as my favourite spice. They are best used freshly ground or crushed with a pestle and mortar. These spices combined. are quite the treat and cooking with them have helped to awaken a Christmas spirit which somehow eluded me this year. Christmas…
I had tubs of leftover pie filling and one last stick of plantain. Tired and in need of truly heart warming, yet super easy food, I found myself layering a small baking dish with my leftover pie, topped with sliced plantains. This pie is everything I dreamed it to be; simple, moreish, warm, sweet, spicy, aromatic and just a joy to look at. After a generous brushing of the top with lightly salted butter and a light dusting of more spices, I popped it in the oven and waited for my wonderful memories to come flooding back. This is a new dish which tapped into feelings of calm, happiness and warmth. I am overjoyed to be able to reignite these feelings through this easy meal. It is a unique twist on the meat pies Nigerians are used to, and an African twist on the quintessential British shepherd’s pie.
Once you realize how certain foods make you feel, it is a great idea to treat yourself to those wonderful feelings. Could this be your happy meal, like it is mine? Do try it…
Feeds 4 hungry tummies
Preparation time: 10 minutes
Cooking time: 50 minutes
For the Pie Filling
1 tbs vegetable or sunflower oil
1 large onion, chopped
2 garlic cloves, crushed
1 tbp of curry powder
1 tsp of paprika
½ tsp chilli
¼ tsp of nutmeg
½ tsp salt
½ tsp dry thyme / 1 tbs fresh thyme
½ tsp dry oregano
A few leaves fresh coriander, chopped
1/4 tsp grains of paradise, crushed
2 stock cubes (vegetable, beef or chicken stock)
200g Minced Beef
2 large carrots, boiled and chopped
2 medium potatoes, peeled, boiled and chopped
1 tbs flour
2 large sticks of plantain
1 tsp melted butter
Fresh coriander, to garnish
Let’s get cooking!
Start by preparing all the vegetables. Potatoes and carrots should be cooked and roughly chopped up, onions chopped and garlic crushed. In a wide saucepan that has a cover, heat a tablespoon of vegetable or sunflower oil on medium heat. Cook the onions and garlic for 2 minutes, stirring regularly to make sure they don’t stick or burn. What you want is to sweat them out to release their wonderful flavours. Then add the spices and herbs such as curry powder, paprika, dry hot pepper, salt, thyme, nutmeg, oregano, coriander and crushed grain of spice, leaving a little of each for the final part of the pie. Give these a good stir and just enjoy the delightful aroma while it cooks for another 2 minutes. Hang on to the stock cube, you may not need it after all. Cook the meat, taste it and if you need a bit more seasoning then add the stock cubes.
Add the minced meat into the pot of onions, garlic and spices, add the roughly chopped cooked potatoes and carrots and stir it all making sure to incorporate all the spices into the mix. Don’t worry about chunks of meat in the mix. Stir the meat and cook until it browns for 5 minutes. The browning process with the spices really creates a deeply flavoured and delicious mince. Pour in 4500ml of water and stir. Cover and leave to simmer for 10 minutes.
Preheat your oven at 200 degrees celcius. while the pot of mince simmers. Do check to make sure the mince does not completely dry out. Take off the heat. Mix a tablespoon of flour with two tablespoons of water and pour into the mince mixture. The mixture should be wet and creamy, so add a bit more water if needed. This moisture is needed for further baking with the plantains, in order to keep the pie moist and marvelous.
Bake in the middle of the oven for 25 – 30 minutes. After 20 minutes check your pie, as the plantains will have browned on the top but not necessarily cooked all the way through. If it is dark then your pie is ready and if not, leave to bake for 5 – 10 more minutes. Once cooked, carefully take the dish out with an oven mitt and leave to cool for 5 minutes. Your cooled pie will still be piping hot inside.
Scoop and enjoy this alone or with rice. Just enjoy those memories of warmth and calmness like I did, or simply make new and wonderful memories with this enjoyable meal.