Defra published their Green Food Report yesterday, which looked into how the UK can grow more food, more sustainably. They chose five case studies, one of which was ‘curry’, and looked at the entire chain from the production of raw materials through to the food waste produced. I’ve skimmed through their conclusions and the separate curry group report, and to be honest it’s pretty dull reading. The conclusions relevant to consumers are that we need to reduce food waste – not a surprise as Love Food Hate Waste tell us we waste 7.2 billion tonnes a year.
Another obvious conclusion is that we need to reduce our meat consumption and make more use of vegetable protein sources with lower carbon footprints, e.g. Chickpeas and other pulses.
A third idea is that we change recipes to replace high carbon ingredients with lower ones, and a fourth is that we try and replace some of our imports with homegrown produce. It’s that last one that has caught media attention, with the idea that we could be growing our own chickpeas a popular one.
It’s in that context that I was asked to write a short piece for the Guardian yesterday, with a very tight deadline over lunchtime. I made a lot of phone calls and spoke to some really lovely people – all of whom were unfortunately edited out of the published piece (no doubt due to space restrictions). How to grow your own curry has attracted some interesting comments overnight, which are well worth reading if you fancy growing your own ingredients.
But I thought you might like to know what my ‘sources’ had to say, so I will blog them here. My first port of call was Anton Rosenfeld from Garden Organic’s Sowing New Seeds project. They have a downloadable fact sheet on growing chickpeas that gives a possible reason for them not being more widely grown – so far no seed varieties have been bred for the UK climate. Most gardeners who grow chickpeas use chickpeas sold as food, or for sprouting, for seed. Anton added that green chickpeas, harvested fresh rather than dried, are not only easier to grow in our short season, but a gourmet ‘unbuyable’ treat. He suggests roasting them in their pod – apparently they go crunchy, like peanuts!
It is possible to buy chickpea seeds in the UK – Original Touch import theirs from Italy, and owner Samantha Ford has grown them herself. She thinks there is no reason we can’t grow our own, and that the foliage on chickpea plants is so attractive it’s worthy of a place in the flower border. Grown like dwarf peas, chickpea pods contain only one or two peas – so you do need a few plants for a reasonable harvest.
And I grew chickpeas myself a few years go – you can find out how I got on in episode 42 of the Alternative Kitchen Garden Show.
I spoke to a lovely lady called Rachel at Riverford Organic (founder Guy Watson being incommunicado in a field somewhere) who talked me though the exciting list of new crops they’re planning on trialling here or on their farm in France. They’ve included lentils, which would make a lovely dal dish. And our own Radix reminded me that yellow split peas grow well here, and are just what you need for chana dal.
It’s too late to start chickpeas this year, but kitchen gardeners will have plenty of other homegrown ingredients to add to their curries. There’s still time to grow herbs like coriander (dhania) and fenugreek (methi), and if the sun comes out there will be chillies ripening across the country. For more information, have a look at my earlier blog posts on growing your own curry, 5 easy-to-grow herbs for Indian cooking and more Indian herbs and spices to grow.
It’s worth bearing in mind that crops grown here in the UK don’t necessarily have a smaller carbon footprint than imports, and that there are rarely simple solutions to environmental problems. But curry is one of our national dishes now, so what do you grow to put in yours?