The Jew And The Carrot

Foods of Freedom: South African Vegetable Curry

By Elizabeth Alpern

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Elizabeth Alpern

To read the first installment of Foods of Freedom click here.

The early years of Nelson Mandela’s life as an organizer and revolutionary were marked by cross-cultural experiences centered around the table, even when such alliances were frowned upon politically. The Indian South African community, and the solidarity it showed in passive resistance campaigns, deeply influenced Mandela’s later mass actions and encouraged Mandela and his colleagues to work across racial and cultural lines. Among his greatest influencers was Amina Pahad, who became politically active in her teenage years, and welcomed activists of all backgrounds into her home, truly letting “all who were hungry come and eat” and creating a safe haven filled with political debate and good meals.

“I often visited the home of Amina Pahad for lunch, and then suddenly this charming woman put aside her apron and went to jail for her beliefs.…”, recalled Mandela in his autobiography “Long Walk to Freedom.”

This vegetable curry, a vegetarian adaptation of Pahad’s dry chicken curry (dry because the spices form almost a paste coating the ingredients thereby making the flavors extra strong), reminds us of the importance of opening our minds (and our taste buds) to people and flavors that may be unfamiliar, and to the quiet power that food wields in the pursuit of justice.

Vegetable Curry

Adapted from Amina Pahad’s Dry Chicken Curry, in “Hunger for Freedom: The Story of Food in the Life of Nelson Mandela,” by Anna Trapido

1 tablespoon coriander seeds
¼ teaspoon cloves
¼ teaspoon peppercorns
1 cinnamon stick
1 jalapeno pepper, seeds removed and diced
1 teaspoon ginger, grated
3 cloves garlic, crushed
1 teaspoon cumin
1 teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon saffron
¼ teaspoon cardamom
2 tablespoon olive oil
1 large onion, diced
1 large eggplant, peeled and cubed
3 carrots, peeled and cut into ½ inch rounds
Juice of one lemon
1 cup almond milk

1) Combine spices* (first 11 ingredients) in a small bowl.

2) Heat oil in a medium saucepan and add diced onion. Heat over medium flame until onion is translucent, about 5 minutes, stirring frequently. Remove from flame and immediately add spice mixture, stirring quickly to coat onions. Add eggplant, carrots, lemon juice and almond milk and stir to coat vegetables.

3) Return saucepan to heat and keep flame on low. Cover and cook until carrots are soft but not mushy, about 30 minutes. Serve with matzo or quinoa.

*Though the number of spices in this dish may be intimidating, the combination is very important and all can be found at major grocery stores. Also, if you have one available, you may choose to grind spices with a mortar and pestle, though the original recipe does not specify that as a necessary step.


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