Making the most of what you have

Parveen's long peppers
Parveen's long peppers

Last week I was in London and had a real “circle of life” kinda weekend, and I don’t mean that I went to see Lion King the musical (which, by the way, is on my to do list), writes columnist Parveen the Spice Queen.

No, I am talking about how life can come full circle. Allow me to elaborate - I used to live and work in London when I first got married. I remember being quite intimidated by the larger than life buildings, the hustle and bustle of the underground and my worst fear - London traffic! However, after a decade of living there, I had mastered the art of using the underground and I even made friends with the dreaded Blackwall Tunnel.

Then we moved to a quiet little village on the outskirts of seemed much slower and more relaxed. We raised our three children and London life became a distant memory. Fast forward a couple of decades and there I was navigating my way through London traffic again!.. I spent nearly all of Saturday trying to get from the north side of the river to the south and then vice versa and yes I was reacquainted with my old friend - the Blackwall tunnel. I definitely got a sense of Déjà Vu.

My husband and I were in London helping our daughter move into her new apartment in North Greenwich. It was a full-on weekend moving furniture, assembling flat pack units, sorting out radiators and generally making a house into a home. So, whilst my husband, my daughter and her new flatmates grappled with some very ambiguous instructions, I had my own issues, i.e. making dinner for 5 from a few tins, some dry ingredients plus the left over contents of my daughter’s fridge which included a couple of red peppers and a very sorry looking bunch of spring onions.

Luckily for me, I had one of my spice boxes in the car. After a trip to a very over-priced local shop to buy some very over-priced pitta bread, garlic and onions, I was ready to cook- or was I?...I had one aluminium pan and an induction hob, so that wasn’t going to work. So off I toddled to the concierge to ask for help. Of course, I had to barter, which is fine as that’s part of my culture. The concierge/maintenance engineer (Norman) was a vegetarian and quite interested in some of my recipes, so with the promise of veggie food, he lent me a cast iron pan from the staff kitchen and said he would pop over to sort out the heating.

Armed with Norman’s pan, my spice-box, some leftover veg and the knowledge that I had hungry workers to feed, I got to work, making the best of what I had. Several hours later, I had made a tarka daal with red peppers and spring onions, spicy chilli eggs with red pepper and spring onions plus a chickpea masala with - you guessed it - red peppers and spring onions.

I found half a packet of rice, so I managed to rustle up some cumin buttered rice as well.

My work was done but upstairs, the Ashraf sub team were still knee deep in screws, dowels and flatboard panels, that all looked alike to me. Finally, around 9.30pm with the furniture assembled, the heating on, food cooked and a few candles on the table - dinner was served.

The troops were happy and I felt it was a job well done. I used the best of what I had and made the first meal for my daughter in her new home.

The only thing left to do was drop off some vegetarian food to Norman and thank him for his help. He was very happy with his container of food - I think it was a fair swap, central heating and a pan for some chick pea masala and some daal.

For Parveen’s recipes or spice box go to