Have you ever wondered what secrets hide in the apartments above the retail stores in the West End of Freo?

My beautiful friend, Claire, recently moved from one such apartment. High above the street, four flights of stairs up, an airy and light home met the skyline. Her tiny terrace had been cram-packed with glorious herbs and fruit trees growing in innumerable terracotta pots. Her new digs meant that she needed to shed the pots and rehome the plants.

Now I’m not a great gardener. I can kill houseplants with a sideways glance (perhaps I should have read Green Thumb: Going from Beginner to Winner in this month’s Freo Pages). My lawnmower man recently remarked on my jungle. In acknowledging this, it takes a brave person to trust me with anything that needs to stay alive in the garden.

Imagine my trepidation when Claire offered me her kaffir lime tree, with bonus planting of parsley at its base. Hell yes! I’m game. The kicker was freeing the tree from its home. I get a nose bleed just thinking of the dizzying heights we climbed. And so Claude enters the story. Lovely Claude the moving man who started the day by laying a sprig of thyme on Claire’s palm and telling her that she had thyme on her hands. Sage advice in the midst of moving chaos. A calming gesture on a frantic day. Claude with the strength of ten men. He carried the enormous pot and tree down the stairs as easily as if it had been a potted geranium and then entered a game of car Tetris to secure the tree for its journey home.

And so to thank Claire for her tree and Claude for his strength and humour …

I made this recipe twice. Once with chicken thighs and then again but with eggplant. In this instance the chicken came before the eggplant.


  • 200g chicken thigh fillets, these stay moister than breast and are usually a bit cheaper too
  • OR about 500g eggplant
  • 3 smallish potatoes, cubed
  • 5 kaffir lime leaves
  • 1/2 cup coconut cream
  • 1/4 cup lime juice
  • A glug of vegetable oil

I added sliced capsicum, zucchini, sweet potato and carrot to my eggplant version.

Spice paste

You can opt for a store bought paste if you need to, but give this one a go just once.

  • 5 fresh red chillies … I over did these and had to tone it down for my family. Use your judgement as to what suits your household. I’ll be using one and building up from there next time.
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 1 stalk of lemongrass, bottom 1/3 sliced into rings
  • fresh ginger, about 45g worth
  • 3 cloves of garlic, peeled
  • 1/2 tsp ground turmeric

Time to put the paste ingredients into an mortar and getting rid of your worries by smashing the heck out of everything. It’s great therapy! Grind away until it’s smooth.

The Process

In a large, heavy-bottomed saucepan, heat the oil and add the paste. Cook for a minute or two to release the aromatic oils. Then add the chicken, or eggplant. Next, add the potatoes, kaffir lime leave, lime juice and coconut cream. Simmer until chicken or eggplant is cooked and the vegetables are softened.

Serve with rice and a scattering of coriander (or not if you aren’t a fan) and enjoy.


Nikki Montgomery

Nikki Montgomery is a muffin baker, sandwich maker, chutney activist and painter of bespoke footwear. Nikki’s been called a lot of things over the years and worn a number of different hats. Between being 'just Mum' and trying to be an active community member, Nikki also has a keen interest in politics and social justice. What better way to get people to slow down and hear what others have to say than to gather together and share food? Now she can add ‘writer’ to her resume.