Blast from the Past

Whether you’re a novice or expert at Indian cooking, you’re bound to love this thick cookbook that just bursts with flavour. Raghavan Iyer describes his first attempt at cooking with the generic American spice called “curry powder,” and his subsequent disappointment at its failure to evoke the spicy heritage of his home. His book 660 Curries is both an homage to the great foods of India and a guide to making those foods for people who have perhaps always thought of curry as something blazing hot that’s seasoned with a can of curry powder.

But just what is curry? If you had asked me before I read this cookbook, I’d have responded that it’s a dish consisting of vegetables, perhaps meat, cooked in a fiery sauce and served with rice. Very nondescriptive. Here’s what Iyer says about curry:

In England and the rest of the world, “curry” describes anything Indian that is mottled with hot spices, with or without a sauce, and “curry powder” is the blend that delivers it. In keeping with my culture, I define a curry as any dish that consists of meat, fish, poultry, legumes, vegetables, or fruits, simmered in or covered with a sauce, gravy, or other liquid that is redolent of spices and/or herbs (p. 3).

I remember once making a curry for dinner, and later meeting up with a friend. “You had curry for dinner tonight, didn’t you?” she asked me, and I stared blankly at her, wondering if my telltale breath had given it away. It turned out that she had already seen my husband, who told her the news. That curry, like every other curry I’ve ever prepared, was seasoned with a curry powder blend that I purchased at the grocery store. Now, however, thanks to Iyer, I’ll be preparing my own blends. He gives you a variety to work with, tells you where to find ingredients that may not be readily available at your grocery store, tells you the best ways to prepare and store them, and provides a variety of useful tips.

Many of the recipes in the book relate back to the section about “spice blends and pastes,” as those are the essential ingredients in preparing the other dishes. Iyer recommends–and I wholeheartedly agree with him–that you carefully read the entire recipe before you begin preparation, and make sure you have everything in place and at hand. If your recipe includes a spice blend found on page 28 (Sesame-Flavored Blend with peanuts and coconut–Maharashtrian Garam Masala), prepare the blend, if you haven’t already, and make sure it’s ready for use.

This book has curries and side dishes to tempt any appetite, including appetizer curries (did you ever think of having a curry dish as an appetizer?), meat curries, paneer curries, legume curries, vegetable curries, contemporary curries, and biryani curries. There is also a section on curry cohorts, in case you were wondering what to serve with the Cauliflower and Potatoes in a blackened red chile sauce (Alur Phulkopir Jhol) on page 481, for example.Β  I like a good naan, and on page 729 there is a recipe for Salt-Crusted Grilled Flatbread with ghee (Naan) that I will be trying out before I get very much older.

The recipes are laid out step-by-step so that they can be easily followed, and tips about techniques, alternatives, etc., frequently follow the recipes. The recipe section is followed up with a very useful guide that includes metric conversion charts, a thorough glossary of ingredients, the basic elements of curry, mail-order sources for spices and legumes, and a good bibliography for the chef who wants to learn more.

If you’re interested in learning more, visit Iyer’s website.

Publisher: Workman Publishing, New York. ISBN 978-0-7611-37870-0. $22.95

Buy it now!

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5 Responses to Blast from the Past

  1. Heather says:

    I love curry dishes from any culture! But I hate cooking! So I just have to go enjoy at restaurants when my mood suits. But this looks like an amazing recipe book! Thanks for sharing it. I’m wanting some curry today now!

  2. jehara says:

    This book has the ever elusive recipe for Navratten Korma. One of these days I will try to make it, once I get over the intimidation factor. πŸ™‚

  3. Annie says:

    After having read your post I’m really hungry ! I like curries and try to prepare them with all the necessary spices ! But sometimes curries are too hot for me. A good tip : to eat fresh grated coconut with them !

  4. Margot says:

    I’m not even in the novice category for Indian food. My kids love it and dragged me into an Indian restaurant once about 15 years ago. My mouth was on fire for weeks and my body was actually in pain.

    I love food so I’m willing to try something new, whether I cook it or someone else does but I’m not dumb enough to go for obvious pain again. My oldest daughter learned from that experience and very gradually introduced me to Thai food which I now love.

    I checked my library’s website and they have a copy of this book. I put my name on the list. Perhaps I can learn how to do curry in a milder form? I’d love to surprise my kids with my own Indian dishes. I don’t want to be known as the Indian-food-coward. By the way, they all love Ethiopian food as well – also Very Spicy.

    • jehara says:

      Ethiopian food is awesome!!! I’ve only eaten at an Ethiopian restaurant a couple of times. It was super delicious and veg friendly, although I don’t remember it being spicy.

      When you order at an Indian restaurant you can order the food less spicy. They usually ask how spicy you would like it. I normally go for medium, but I’ll ask for mild when I’m not in the mood for as much heat.

      The first time I had Indian food I didn’t even like it. Now I love it. The same thing with my husband. It is all about what you try. At least that is how it was for us. πŸ™‚

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