I love cooking. I love eating, actually. It’s not a huge problem: I limit myself now to eat only foods that I love. Before, I had a habit of forcing myself to eat literally anything. It was a way of being a person of the world: adaptable and non-offensive. I wanted to feel accepted wherever I went. I guess it was the way we were brought up: we were trained not to leave a thing on our plates. My father told us that to leave even one grain of rice was a sin—and to this day, when washing rice, if I spill a single grain I think it an inauspicious sign.
We have traveled a lot as a family, and in all of these countries, I’ve picked up—not recipes—but styles of food, adding them to my repertoire of staple dishes that I make at home. We drink Turkish coffee at breakfast, eat many different paneer dishes, soups, and fish of every style under the sun. Today in my local supermarket deep in the olde English countryside, a surprise installation of a trolley displaying vegetables from around the world caused great joy to the burghers of my tiny town. Clusters of us fingered plantains and eddoes, green finger chilies and daikon radish. I brought it all home, with two octopus, and cooked the following dish. I made it up. It can be as hot as you like and should be served with yoghurt and cucumber watered down with lemon juice and a drop of Agave syrup.
Clean the octopus by de-skinning and gutting and washing the tentacles. Cut the octopus into small bite-size pieces and put them in a pot with enough water to cover them, along with a teaspoon of salt and a tablespoon of garam masala. Boil it for an hour to tenderize. Chop a leek—a tough older one is always good for this sort of dish—some garlic and ginger, a zucchini, maybe some daikon, a few spears of asparagus if you fancy it. Chuck it all into a large hot frying pan with a tablespoon of olive oil and let it sizzle. Throw in something red, maybe some cherry tomatoes—you can leave the stalk star on because it’s flavorsome—and most importantly, two or three green chilis. Remove the octopus from the boiling water and toss them into the frying pan, so they get griddled a little. Finally, add the boiling octopus water that remains in the pot after boiling—it should have cooked down to about an inch off the bottom of the pan. I know this isn’t specific, but it’s a trial and error sort of dish. Get some herbs from the garden—anything that’s growing well—I had some early parsley and a huge handful of chives my chickens had turned their noses up at. Let it all meld together until it smells so good you’d burn your mouth trying bits straight from the pan. When it looks done, it probably is done. Serve with the cucumber yoghurt, some store-bought flatbreads, and a green salad.
This is the sort of meal we eat all the time. It’s freedom, is what it is. It’s Britain and Sri Lanka and everywhere else on a plate.
Read more about Fernando’s novel, Homesick