Winter is the best time to indulge in all things comfort food, with Britons favouring anything filling and warming.
While hearty dishes like cottage pie, bangers and mash, roast potatoes, and fish pie are popular in the UK, particularly in the colder months, they might not be quite enough to banish the January blues.
We may have gotten through Blue Monday, but with two and a half months of winter still to go, many people might be in need of a perkier dish to lift their spirits amid the plunging temperatures.
Michelin award-winning chef Sebby Holmes, owner of London-based Thai restaurant Farang and his own brand of Thai sauces and curry pastes, Payst, has shared his top recipe for boosting the mood of the nation.
Holmes developed his recipe for his Jungle Curry of Beef Cheeks, Green Peppercorns and Sweet Basil to include ingredients that are uplifting and combines heat, colour and lean proteins to stimulate the release of feel-good endorphins and boost serotonin levels.
According to the chef, the science behind each component includes:
Heat: Ginger, garlic and chillies come together in this classic Thai curry, with some great mood-lifting results. Studies have found that ginger can help increase levels of serotonin, the chemical responsible for making us feel happy and satisfied, and dopamine, while the capsaicin in chillies trigger the release of “happy hormones”, endorphins.
Colour: Certain colours have been shown to influence the way we feel. Bright colours can result in the release of serotonin. Holmes’ curry has bright red colours that can enhance mood, with yellow and orange hues that can elicit feelings of happiness, optimism and hope.
Lean proteins: According to mental health charity MIND, diets high in protein can support mental health. Protein contains amino acids which the brain needs to produce neurotransmitters, which help regulate thoughts and feelings. Beef cheeks are affordable and packed with protein.
Sebby Holmes’ Jungle Curry with Beef Cheeks, Green Peppercorns and Sweet Basil
1 pot Payst jungle curry
2 tablespoons, vegetable oil
2 tablespoons, coriander roots, washed and finely chopped
4 garlic cloves, peeled
2 tablespoons wild ginger, krachai, peeled and roughly chopped (regular ginger can be used instead)
½ tablespoon coarse sea salt
200g, beef cheek, trimmed (any slow cook beef can be used)
2 whole stick lemongrasses, bruised in a pestle
20g, galangal, bruised in a pestle
4 kaffir lime leaves, torn slightly to release flavour
2 tablespoons, table salt
1 whole garlic head, sliced in two across the cloves
4 banana shallots, chopped in half
1 tablespoon, caster sugar
2 tablespoons, fish sauce
10g, hot mint, Vietnamese mint (optional)
10g, betel leaves (optional, spinach can be used instead)
10g, Thai sweet basil
10g, fresh curry leaves
30g, new potatoes, chopped in half
30g, green beans
1 head pak choi, core removed and chopped into bite sized pieces.
Fresh chillies to taste
Firstly, braise the beef cheeks. In a large oven proof pan, submerge the beef cheeks in water and then add the lemongrass sticks, bruised galangal, lime leaves, banana shallots, table salt and whole garlic. Cover the surface of the liquid with parchment paper and the pan with tin foil to protect from the direct heat of the oven and then cook in a pre-heated oven at 100 degrees centigrade for 8 hours, this is best cooked overnight. Check the beef cheeks before removing from the oven, they should easily be chopped with a spoon with tenderness. When cooked, remove from the oven and leave to one side to use immediately.
In the meantime, cook out the paste. When cooking a jungle curry, it is fried in two stages and then boiled, this is for depth of flavour. To start, pound the coriander root, wild ginger and garlic cloves to a paste, using the sea salt as an abrasive.
Next heat the vegetable oil in a wok or non-stick pan and then proceed to fry out the paste, scraping and stirring constantly. When the coriander, ginger and garlic paste begins to darken slightly, add the jungle curry paste and continue to cook out the paste, making sure it doesn’t stick and burn. At this point add the kaffir lime leaves and the lemongrass from the beef braising stock. Continue to fry the paste until it begins to darken in colour and then add the sugar and fry for a further minute until the sugar has caramelised and the paste has darkened a little more.
Next de-glaze the pan with the fish sauce, 300ml of beef braising stock and bring to a simmer. Once simmering add the potatoes and continue to simmer for 10 minutes until the potatoes are beginning to soften. At this point add the pak choi, green beans and beef cheeks and use a little more braising stock if needed, then continue to simmer until all ingredients are softened and edible.
Lastly add all the herbs and gently toss them through the hot curry and then serve immediately, the curry should be loose, yet rich and spicy with a salty edge. Serve the beef cheek jungle curry in bowls with steamed jasmine rice, if you like, top with crispy garlic, shallots and fresh chillies.
Read more about food and mental health:
Gut feeling: The way to support your mental health through food (City AM, 4-min read)
Mental health benefits of mindful eating as couple see 14st weight loss (Yahoo Life UK, 6-min read)
How your gut health affects your mental health (Yahoo Life UK, 4-min read)