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. 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