I don’t know if you know, but my favourite food happens to be a well cooked curry, so last month I purchased a rather tattered copy of Madhur Jaffrey’s 1975 masterpiece An Invitation to Indian Cooking. I have spent pretty much every Sunday since this landmark acquisition trying to achieve true depth of flavour in my Indian cooking. Here are ten things I have leaned thanks mainly to Madhur, forums, trial and error:
1. Toast your spices– dry, in a pan, until they turn a few shades darker. It really brings out the flavour and aroma.
2. Use gee– It gives a great flavour to the sauce. Oil doesn’t separate as easily from the mixture as gee, and it doesn’t carry the flavours as well.
3. Chapatis are really easy to make– For months I was experimenting with combinations of flour, milk, oil, water, butter. In the end I decided that chapati flour and water are all you need. Make a dough, leave it to rest for half an hour, and roll into thin discs. Cook them quickly on a hot iron tava or pan before holding over a raw flame until they puff up. I like to spread a bit of butter on them and leave them to rest under tin foil until they soften.
4. A blended onion does wonders– Cast that jar of shop-bought muck to the wind. Blend an onion with some garlic and ginger, then toast and add spices of your choice. This makes for the perfect curry paste, and very quick work indeed. Stock and/or tomatoes can be added to turn it into a sauce.
5. Buy your spices in small amounts–Many ground spices like coriander lose their intensity after a few months in the cupboard. An alternative is to buy whole spices and grind in them a food processor, or pestle and mortar, before you start cooking.
6. Give it time (left-overs are even better)– Pretty much every time I cook Indian food I’ll have a taste after it’s been bubbling for 20 minutes and I’ll condemn it to blandness, only to come back an hour later and be delighted by how the flavours have developed in spite of my impatience
7. Heat for the belly not the mouth – A very proud Indian chef once explained this fact to me at great length. Warmth in an Indian dish is better if it comes from spice rather than excessive amounts of chilli.
8. Sometimes we need to start again– So many dishes we think to be authentically Indian are not. ‘Chicken Tikka Masala,’ ‘Jalfrazi,’ Balti’, and ‘Korma’ have all become very British phenomenons. Personally, I am an endeared fan of our clumsy but impassioned adoption of the Indian cuisine. Just don’t always expect your korma to be as sweet and yellow as you may have thus far experienced.
9. Our pesky export tomatoes are not good enough– They’re just so flapping bland! I’m also loathed to used tinned tomatoes, which I’m convinced taste unnatural and slightly metallic. As a compromise I use fresh tomatoes with a dollop of puree.
10. I will always be a novice– Despite all this I acknowledge it take years, if not generations, of experience to truly learn the art of Indian cooking. Nevertheless we must soldier on in hope of palak perfection.
I’d love you hear your opinions on these points, especially if you love cooking South Asian food. Perhaps you have something to add or vehemently think I should remove. – Jodie