Vegan Chickpea Kedgeree, for ‘Downton Abbey’
A delicious vegan take on a Victorian classic
The UK churns out beautifully-made period pieces with nimble regularity, but not since a reticent Colin Firth staggered from a lake clad in clinging white linen in 1995’s Pride and Prejudice had a show enjoyed such cultural impact as Downton Abbey. Ten years on from its celebrated debut, I finally jumped on the bandwagon, consuming the show with fervent vigor. Yes, it’s very silly, skittishly in love with the idea of noblesse oblige, and not an awful lot happens — but what a serotonin-boosting pleasure to watch that glorious mildness unfold!
Downton Abbey is an exquisitely-wrapped gift: what’s inside is almost irrelevant because the joy is in its presentation. The small becomes enormous and the enormous is tiny: characters splutter at an incorrect tie worn to dinner, yet instinctively exercise discretion when a Turkish diplomat is found dead in the bed of the estate’s eldest daughter.
Dame Maggie Smith as the Dowager Countess carries herself like a vexed marmoset, perpetually ready to cock her head slightly and murmur the kind of observation only someone deeply obscured from regular society can invoke. (“What is a weekend?”) The Crawley sisters — Mary, Edith and Sybil — are on the spectrum of icy to fiery, and the thought of getting along and being friends is unnecessary, if not crass.
The bustling team of staff downstairs are the frantically moving feet of the serenely gliding duck upstairs, and in them we see the complexities of social hierarchy, plus hilariously chunky exposition with every season about the changing times — whether it’s incredulity at electricity having any purpose in a kitchen, or marvelling at a hairdryer in the manner of Indiana Jones holding aloft the Sankara stone.
I was joined in this Downton Abbey binge by my mother, and as one episode concluded we’d let another roll without even looking at each other for confirmation — “oh go on! It’s only midnight!” There is much about the story Downton Abbey tells which is at odds with what I value in life — and yet it’s so confident, so crisp, so elegant, so delicious, watching it is an exercise in pure contentment.
Food is central to Downton Abbey, with numerous scenes bouncing back and forth between courtly dinners and the pace of the kitchen below. Despite the outwardly mellow appearance of characters dressed up and seated, a large slice of the drama, not to mention the Dowager’s best one-liners, simmer and come to a boil over the aspic and soufflés.
In the show’s opening minutes we’re introduced to kedgeree, in a sequence that encapsulates everything about Downton Abbey. The newspaper has arrived; while ironing it, to dry the ink and prevent it staining his lordship’s fingers, a footman reads about the Titanic sinking. The workers downstairs have no time to process this enormous tragedy, because the bells are ringing from upstairs for their service, and, as cook Mrs Patmore instructs: the kedgeree needs delivering. From this flurry of activity we cut to Lord Grantham gliding down to the breakfast table, to eat the kedgeree and read the newspaper. Lord Grantham expresses regret for the Titanic passengers not in first class who perished, showing us how he’s a compassionate character, despite his lofty status — but he’s also blithely removed from the careful labor that went into his newspaper, let alone breakfast.
This contrast between his ability to have every need smoothly met and the peaceful space to think, while the tireless staff below are interrupted constantly, is present throughout Downton Abbey. While not always executed successfully, it’s a compelling duology.
This kedgeree recipe I’ve made in honor of Downton Abbey is not exactly authentic, being vegan. But kedgeree itself is not exactly authentic, either — returning colonialists liberally commandeered the centuries-old Indian dish kichdi, turning it into Victorian nursery food with the addition of eggs and fish. It makes sense that we’d see the landed gentry eating this for breakfast — kedgeree was fashionable, a little luxurious, very comforting, and a doubtless succouring reminder of England’s thirst for dominion.
My kedgeree uses a blend of chickpeas and nori to evoke the usual poached fish, as well as being a nod to the lentils traditional to the original kichdi. I’ve also used kala namak, or black salt, which has a sulphuric richness of flavor quite similar to egg — if you can’t find it, just use regular salt, but the kala namak really lifts this to another level of deliciousness. This makes a wonderful breakfast, as they had it on Downton Abbey, a light, nourishing dinner, and a great addition to a buffet.
Serves 3–4 on its own, or 6 as a side dish
For the chickpea mixture:
- One can chickpeas, drained
- One tablespoon nori flakes, or one small nori sheet, finely chopped
- One tablespoon coconut oil
- One heaped teaspoon mustard
- Two tablespoons tahini
- One teaspoon maple syrup
- Salt and pepper, to taste
For the rice:
- Two tablespoons coconut oil
- One onion, peeled and diced
- One cup basmati rice, rinsed
- One tablespoon curry powder
- Two cups vegetable broth
- One cup cherry tomatoes, halved
- A pinch of kala namak (also called black salt)
- Chopped parsley, and lemon wedges to serve
- First, make the chickpea mixture. Drain the can of chickpeas and tip them into a small bowl. Mash them roughly with a fork, then stir in the remaining ingredients. Refrigerate until needed.
- For the rice, heat the coconut oil in a medium-sized saucepan and gently fry the onion in it, stirring often till they are softened but not browned.
- Add the rinsed rice and curry powder, and continue to stir over a low heat for a minute, until the rice grains are thoroughly combined with the spice and onions.
- Add the broth, and turn up the heat. As soon as the water comes to the boil, place a lid on the saucepan and turn the heat to the lowest possible setting. Allow to simmer, without removing the lid, for around ten minutes or until the rice appears to have absorbed all the water.
- Remove the pan from the heat and let sit for another two minutes with the lid on.
- Gently fold in the chickpea mixture (the heat of the rice will warm it through), the tomatoes, and the black salt. Serve immediately, sprinkled with chopped parsley and with lemon wedges on the side for squeezing over. I’d put the kala namak on the table as well for people to add more as they eat.