A new happy era has descended on our chicken coop … Not like that time when we hatched baby chicks after three weeks of high tension, going a few days over the due date then flipping out with joy when we heard tweets coming from inside the eggs. (Something happened not long after I wrote about that. It involved a fox and a self-closing solar door that we mis-programmed. It was horrible.) … This year we have four new hens of different heritage varieties, including one of those cute silly chooks (kids’ choice) called a Silky with a fountain of feathers atop her strawberry blonde head. Another is a lavender Araucana, a tall grey hen who you couldn’t describe as cute – more rugged beauty with sideburns – but she lays the most beautiful green eggs.
To my knowledge, heritage chickens don’t usually lay in winter when the days are short. But these young four seem to have forgotten that bit and have been pumping out eggs since early July. We are swimming in them, with enough to share, and I am basking in all the egg dishes I don’t make often enough. I might even have a go at a wild Thai dessert I’ve earmarked, featuring mung beans and 10 eggs. Reckless.
Our four young hens are kept in line by two matriarchs, who might not be laying at the moment, but deserve their part in the story. Pippalotta is a plump black Australorp with big eyes – a dark princess – and Oregano Feather Feet is our miracle survivor from the fox visit. After her entire family went missing, she shunned the chicken coop and took to sitting underneath the oregano bush (hence her name), and nesting at night in the apricot tree. It was so nice to have one chick to pour our love into after the fox shock and grief, and we were doubly lucky when she turned out to be a hen not a rooster, which meant we could keep her. She got special treatment. The kids made cardboard obstacle courses for her, and a little paper cape with ‘O.F.F.’ written in superhero letters. Our daughter spent her pocket money on a small chicken harness that came in the mail from America, so that Oregano could go for walks around the block. (But Oregano didn’t take to that too well … and then we got a dog, and chicken walks disappointingly took a back seat.)
Best egg curry
In my house, three out of four of us lust after this simple curry – current favourite thing to eat with eggs. The combo of coconut and tomato with curry leaves and spices is some kind of food of the gods, and we especially love it on toast for breakfast or lunch.
The first time I ever saw an egg curry was on … Masterchef. Yep, inspiration comes from all over the place, and this was a phase of life when our kids were young, and I spent more time on the couch than I do now (breastfeeding, reading bedtime stories, and sneaking a bit of TV). To give credit to the dish that inspired me, I’ve been digging around and worked out it was on Masterchef Australian season 5, 2013. The cook was Neha Sen, and I remember her lovely face, and her simple Indian curry, which seemed perfect to me without cheffy fanfare – boiled eggs suspended in a creamy, spicy gravy like her mother would make.
I went searching for Neha’s recipe, but it was sadly not published … For some reason I had in my head (until writing this) that Neha was Sri Lankan rather than Indian, so I googled ‘Sri Lankan’ egg curry and found a couple of recipes online that seemed similar to the one I remembered. Not wedded to either, my own version of a Sri Lankan curry was born, aiming to keep the ingredients as authentic as possible.
8 eggs, boiled in their shells and peeled (traditionally hardboiled, but I prefer to pull them out of the water a few minutes early for soft centres)
1 heaped tablespoon coconut oil
about 15 curry leaves
½ teaspoon fenugreek seeds
1 cinnamon stick
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
slice of ginger, finely chopped
1 large onion, sliced
½ teaspoon turmeric
2 teaspoons Sri Lankan roasted curry powder*
250 ml coconut milk (or half this amount of coconut cream)
2 heaped tablespoons tomato paste (or about 2/3 cup passata or diced tinned tomatoes – you can also use chopped fresh tomatoes in season)
1 teaspoon salt
Combine the oil, curry leaves, fenugreek, cinnamon and cloves in a medium saucepan. Place over medium heat and sizzle until the curry leaves are starting to crisp. Add the garlic and ginger and fry for 30 seconds, then add the onion. When the onion is soft and lightly golden, add the turmeric and curry powder. Stir the spices into the onion, then add the coconut milk, tomato paste and about 250 ml water. Also add the salt and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to a simmer and cook for about 15 minutes. At the end you should have a lightly thick gravy (add more water during cooking if it is becoming too thick). Taste to make sure you’re happy with the seasoning, and add the peeled eggs, allowing them to just heat in the sauce.
Serve with rice or, unconventionally, on buttered toast. (Roti would also be wonderful on the side.) Enjoy for breakfast, lunch or dinner.
* Sri Lankan curry powder is darker than other curry powders because the whole spices are roasted before they are ground, and there is no (or not much) turmeric in it. I’ve never made this egg curry with another kind of curry powder, but if you can’t get your hands on it and are wondering what to use, I think you could try a combo of regular curry powder and garam masala for a slightly different curry (and I’d probably skip adding turmeric). Alternatively, you can find good recipes for Sri Lankan roasted curry powder online – and you may already have all the ingredients in your spice collection.