October 04, 2010

Great Curries

Last Saturday I made two Indian dishes.  Though neither was my own recipe, I'd never made either before. One came from a standard Indian cooking reference, while the other came from from the newest issue of one of the cooking magazines I find most reliable.

50 Great Curries of India

The standard reference in question is 50 Great Curries of India by Camellia Panjabi.  First published in 1994, this work has been through numerous printings and editions (though the differences from edition to edition are apparently minor) to become one of the standards of Indian cooking.  Considering both the book's contents and its author, it's easy to see why.  A native of Mumbai, Ms. Panjabi worked for one of India's most prominent hotel chains, one known for culinary innovation, before going to the UK and, individually and along with family members, launching some of Britain's most successful Indian restaurants and chains.  This lady knows food, and particularly Indian food, and the book's content shows this.

The opening section covers about the ingredients, techniques, traditions and philosophy behind Indian cooking.  There are sections dealing with the regional differences in Indian cooking, and how the lack of standardized versions of famous dishes is a result of Indian cooking being very much home-based.   I found the discussion of the philosophy of Indian cuisine quite interesting.  While I'm not an adherent of the Ayurvedic philosophies that underlie traditional Indian cooking, I found this section interesting due to the discussion of how this tradition results in the balance of different flavors that characterizes Indian cuisine.  I also found the ingredients section informative, as it went into a bit more detail describing typical (and some less-than-typical) ingredients common to Indian cooking and their uses and purpose within the recipes.

The bulk of the book is a collection of recipes: the promised 50 curries, plus a selection of Indian breads, side dishes, chutneys and so forth to accompany them.  There are versions of standard fare familiar to Western fans of Indian cooking (Lamb Vindaloo, Butter Chicken, Malabar Shrimp Curry) plus a variety of dishes less recognized in the West.  They range from fairly simple to very complex; some of the dishes are associated with emperors while others are very standard Indian family fare.  Each of the curries is accompanied by a beautiful, appetite-inspiring, full-page photograph of the dish. 

So far, this is a book I've learned from more than I've cooked from, as the recipe I made on Saturday was the first I've actually cooked from the book.  The recipes are a bit more complicated than in some other books, such as Manju Malhi's Easy Indian Cookbook: The Step-by-Step Guide to Deliciously Easy Indian Food at Home (previously reviewed here: http://jeffreyandjulicook.blogspot.com/2010/09/this-book-got-me-started.html ), and probably not the best choice for someone just starting with Indian cooking.  That said, the informational parts of this book are so strong that I think it's a good thing for someone starting cooking Indian to read.  Combine the information in this one with the recipes in Malhi's book and you've got a great start to Indian cuisine, and once one has gotten the hang of Malhi's recipes, the recipes in 50 Great Curries offer lots of slightly more advanced options.  There are a lot of recipes in this book I'm planning to try out.  The White Chicken Korma, Chicken Pistachio Korma and Shrimps in Sweet and Hot Curry look particularly mouthwatering. 

The recipe I chose for my first foray into 50 Great Curries of India was Lamb Korma Pilaf... essentially, a casserole consisting of a lamb curry sandwiched between two layers of rice, the top saffron-infused, the bottom having absorbed the gravy from the lamb curry.  It was a flavorful but fairly mellow dish, which went well with my second choice:  South Indian-Style Vegetable Curry, from the newest issue of Fine Cooking.  This was a spicy, flavorful curry with chick peas, cauliflower, carrots and sweet potatoes.  It's not the world's most unique dish - there's a very similar dish in Malhi's book - but it sure is tasty, and it went perfectly with the Lamb Korma Pilaf. 

The picture below shows Saturday night's supper, consisting of the two dishes above, plus some naan and watermelon.

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