50 Great Curries of India

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50 Great Curries of India By Camellia Panjabi, Illustrated by Peter KnabCamellia Panjabi leaves no stone unturned for Western lovers of her country’s food in this little book that is more than just a collection of recipes. Following an introduction there is a page with a map alongside on culinary India, and then a chapter on The Philosophy of Indian Cuisine. This is followed by Why an Indian Meal? I was pleasantly surprised on reading the last paragraph of this section to discover just how beneficial some spices are: turmeric is anti-inflammatory while curry leaves are anti-bacterial; cumin and clove aid digestion whereas black pepper dries mucus.

The preliminary section continues with What Exactly is a Curry? This section of the book explains that curry simply means gravy. Indian gravy uses no flour. Panjabi tells us that ‘The origin of the word curry seems to be a meat or vegetable dish to be eaten with rice, which is considered to be the main dish of the meal.’ The sub-section on making a curry gives details on thickening agents, souring agents and how to give colour to a curry. In the sub-section on the use of spices I learned that some spices are used mainly for taste, such as chillies and turmeric and, while others, among them cardamom and nutmeg, mainly for aroma.

A section on Herbs and Fresh Spices introduces thirteen varieties, of which ginger and garlic are used in almost all recipes. Chillies can be either the fresh green variety or a dried red variety that imparts both colour and a hot taste. Panjabi notes that chillies are a good source of vitamin C.

The Curry Picture is a double-page table that tells you the name of a curry and its basic ingredients and accompaniments according to your stipulation, for example if you want to have lamb with sliced bread you go for Seyal Gosht.

Hints and Short Cuts includes advice on which curries and accompaniments can be cooked a day ahead or cooked further in advance and then frozen. There are also useful tips on what to do about mishaps such as burnt onions or a curry that is just too spicy. All is not lost if things go wrong.

The initial sections end with instructions for Making a Simple Homestyle Curry , whether chicken/lamb/fish/vegetable; Panjabi stipulates that you must try this simple one before attempting any of the others. I have to admit I didn’t, but I think my first attempt at one of the more complicated curries was actually quite successful.

The Curries

There are no recipes using beef or pork: just lamb, chicken, fish and various vegetarian options, including watermelon, mango and yogurt or mixed dried fruit curry. I prefer something a little more savoury myself.

I have tried the recipe for lamb slow-cooked in onions and yogurt which uses a mixture of stewing lamb and lamb chops. Having read through the recipe, I decided to start the preparations the night before, although this was partly because you need to use a blender right at the start and I didn’t want to wake other members of the household early on a Sunday morning. So I kept pureed onions and tomatoes in the fridge overnight, as well the lamb marinating in pureed yogurt, coriander leaves and green chillies. Had I started the following morning, the meat would have had to be marinated for at least an hour. Then the onion would be cooked, followed by a bouquet garni and the spices. These would be combined, the pureed tomato would be added, and after cooling this mixture would be added to the meat and yogurt. There is then a further hour of marinating, so this is obviously a recipe that takes several hours. After adding salt and cooking for five minutes, the curry is cooked in the oven for an hour and a half. The time taken was well worth it, as there are beautiful flavours of cardamom seeds, chopped ginger, mace, coriander, cumin and cinnamon. Ground caraway seeds and cardamom powder are sprinkled over the curry just before serving. The recipe suggests two teaspoons of red chilli powder or paprika – I used a teaspoon of each and the curry was not particularly hot, so I would suggest the chilli powder unless you like extremely mild curries.

The pureed onions give a very smooth texture to this curry, as well as to the chicken and cashew nuts in black spices that my son and his partner cooked for us one day. There is no marinating in this recipe, so you don’t need to begin preparations too far in advance. It uses grated coconut as well as ginger, coriander seeds, cumin seeds, red chillies, cloves and cinnamon stick. The coconut adds to the smooth texture of the sauce and the cashew nuts complement this. Again, it wasn’t particularly spicy, so some people might want to use extra chilli powder.

The last section of the book gives recipes for the following accompaniments to the curries:

rice – various kinds, and two cooking methods;

Indian bread or rotis – pooris, chapatis, parathas;

side vegetables – these include aubergine, cabbage, cauliflower and spinach;

potatoes – the recipes all seem to involve frying;

lentils – the four recipes all use several spices, and one has red pumpkin too;

yogurt – raitas with cucumber, potato, tomato or spinach;

papadams – they are believe to absorb fat in the body;

chutneys – four recipes, but I confess I have not tried any of them;

cachumbers or relishes – these are all based on chopped raw onion;

desserts – a good variety, from halva to Indian icecream. I wouldn’t indulge in this icecream as it is made with evaporated milk as well as double cream. I might instead try the apple halwa one day.

Planning a Meal gives suggestions for menus according to degree of spiciness of the curry and whether or not your guests are vegetarian. The final page before the index discusses drinking with a meal. I was unaware that cold water was thought to cause mucus in the stomach and for this reason Indians often sip tepid water during a meal.

I would recommend this book wholeheartedly to anyone who has a love of Indian food and any interest in cooking. I used to use Lloyd Grossman or Sharwood’s curry sauces to knock up a curry in twenty minutes or so and serve it with Uncle Ben’s microwaved vegetable pilau rice on the pretence of being too busy to do anything more adventurous. If anything I was perhaps lacking in confidence. But the first time I tried making one of these curries I was surprised to find that it wasn’t difficult so much as time consuming. I felt that it was creative and I loved adding so many individual herbs and spices that smelled wonderful and eventually tasted as good as I thought they ought to. It’s something I can do on a Sunday to make a change from roast chicken.

Colour photographs of the curries and accompaniments appear alongside every recipe. Quite a few of the accompanying dishes are illustrated as well. The book is only A5 format but contains an absolute wealth of information on the way food is eaten in India as well as the recipes. The font is rather small, but the steps are numbered and well spaced, and the ingredients are listed in bold on the left-hand side of the page.

Take courage in both hands and use a free half day to see what a feast you can prepare. I hope you will be as delighted as I was.

50 great curries of india by Camellia Panjabi (the cover of the book uses no capital letters)

224 pages published by Kyle Cathie Ltd

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50 Great Curries of India
by Camellia Panjabi

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Written by frangliz
frangliz

I have a degree in Fine Art but never actually worked in that field. After almost two years in Paris, I moved to Cairo and spent many years there teaching English language and literature in schools. I came back to the UK in 1999 and now work with young children. I also tutor students of all ages in French, English or Maths. I enjoy writing reviews in my spare time; another hobby of mine is photography. I have two sons who are now grown up, both working in IT.

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