"The only way to eat superb Indian food, with a guarantee of variety, quality and freshness of ingredients, is to learn to cook it for yourself. And that is the purpose of this book - to open up the infinite possibilities offered by a cuisine that is over a thousand years old!" Madhur Jaffrey
I'm getting back on track. First real foodie post of the year so I turned to my tried and true First Recipe technique and Madhur Jaffrey's very first book An Invitation to Indian Cooking - an absolute classic. My version is a Penguin version published in 1978 but it was first published in America in 1973. In America because that's where she lives. She is married to an American. Well I'm now not quite sure whether she still lives there, though I think she does. her three daughters are there after all.
And you know I had completely forgotten that I had this book. For I have reached the top shelf of my first shelf of cookbooks, on which lurk various odd and old paperbacks. It has stayed hidden up there for a long time. The is not a glossy book amongst them, so I am hoping to find some long lost gems.
And this is obviously one of them. The first recipe by the way is Mulligatawny soup, (pictured at the top of the page) which I know I have done before, so I'm not going to say much about it - what little I have to say will come later.
Although the book was first published in America, I think the Introduction to my version must have been written for the British audience because she is talking about the state of British Indian restaurants there. And she is not very impressed:
"On a recent visit to London, I was astounded to see Indian restaurants flourishing in practically every neighbourhood. Mistakenly, I took this efflorescence to signify an increased supply of good quality, authentic, regional Indian foods. ... Upon visiting the restaurants, I found most of them to be second-class establishments that had managed to underplay their own regional uniqueness as well as to underestimate the curiosity and palate of the contemporary Britons. ...
This is, of course, not true of all Indian restaurants. There are a few very good ones, specialising generally in certain types of North Indian food. But even here, the menus are stubbornly limited to the tried and true."
I had a very quick look to see what the current state of the British Indian restaurant is and found a report from 2019 - before COVID so probably different again today. The report seemed to be saying that it was a huge business sector and that although the traditional British curry house still existed, there were now many more high end restaurants serving regional food, together with others offering lighter fare and street food. However, it also seems that many were closing partly because of increased competition from other options and partly because the next generation - children of the current restaurateurs were not interested in continuing in the business.
But back in 2019 the sector was obviously huge - it employed 100,000 people, and generated £4.2 billion in sales. The British do indeed love their curry and indeed have made curry their own:
“The contemporary way people are doing it, with street food and so on, is fantastic. But the way of cooking here is different. You can’t find this curry in Bangladesh or India. Curry is part of British heritage.” Oli Khan - Restaurateur
“The British developed a spice palate which is different – onions, ginger, lots of turmeric as they like the yellow colour. The dishes change to suit them, then those dishes get brought back here. It evolves and becomes distinctively British rather than something you’d have in India.” Lizzie Collingham
Considering Jaffrey's swipe at the British and the notion of curry ("the word is obviously a British oversimplification for what is universally recognises as a richly varied cuisine)" it is very interesting that the first recipe in the book is Mulligatawny soup - a British Raj dish if ever there was one. And one that I have written about before. Suffice to say that she was given this particular recipe by some Anglo-Indian friends who emigrated to Australia. The picture is at the top of the page.
The picture and the recipe come from an article in The Observer which was celebrating the book many years after its publication. The article was very brief, but included a few recipes, four of which I shall mention here.
Kheema - which is fundamentally minced meat and, according to Jaffrey and in keeping with the notion of 'first' - "the first Indian dish all Indian students abroad learn to make." The potato and peas are an addition - that she suggests. And ditto for the bread. Madhur Jaffrey herself, when she was starting out in life on her own - as an actress - she continued acting well into old age - could not cook at all, but hated the rubbish English food of the time, and so she asked her mother to send her recipes of her favourite dishes. Which she did, on those old blue aerograms, with details of when to add things, how it should look as you went along and so on. It took her five years to write that first book but by now has written 30 - not quite all have been cookbooks - as well as presenting many television series. I think she has - or had anyway - a restaurant in New York, and she still managed to fit in a bit of acting here and there.
She was not actually my first Indian guru. She was my third. First that little paperback Cooking the Indian Way, that I have written about before, then Charmaine Solomon and finally Madhur Jaffrey, although I don't remember which was the first of her books that I bought. Probably this one. For I too had to learn to cook Indian food because I missed those probably terrible to Indian eyes, restaurants back in England and there were none here. So I too had to learn to cook it.
The second recipe from that Observer article I am featuring is Chicken moghlai which I may well have made in the past, but not for a while, so maybe I shall make that my 'new' recipe of the week, although it is also a 'guru' recipe, so maybe next week. This week I have decided is for a new recipe not from a 'guru'. Moghlai chicken is a dish of Delhi, and in her introduction she explains that this particular book is very largely a book of dishes from Delhi, with just a very few from nearby states. For these are the recipes she learned from her mother. The food of home. And home was Delhi. Except for that Mulligatawny Soup.
Then there are Whole-wheat samosas. Who doesn't like samosas? These, I confess I make from that little Cooking the Indian Way book, but seeing this gorgeous picture here I might give Mashur Jaffrey's a try. Samosas are wonderful snack foods. They are one of the few things that I find I can happily choose when trying to find something to eat in a food court in a shopping centre, because they are not huge in size like almost everything else you see there. Doubtless the fillings would be considered inferior in a true Indian's eyes. But I like them anyway. Maybe I should plan an Indian feast sometime with some friends - or maybe just the family. Beginning with samosas.
And the last one - Pullao - a lamb and rice dish of which she says:
"I find that the English prefer the boned, cubed meat. However, remember that traditionally pullao uses meat with bone and some day, if not today, you should try making it that way."
I confess I am showing my prejudices with my selection in that they are all meat dishes. And in this I do the book a disservice because the largest section by far is dedicated to vegetables. Writing back then in 1973 Madhur Jaffrey said:
"One of the hardest things to find in this country is a good, balanced, fresh vegetarian meal. The choice seems to lie between macaroni and cheese, salads, raw or boiled vegetables, cheeses and fruit. The reason is that the English menu is planned around meat, poultry or fish, the vegetables being just accessories. This country has not developed a vegetarian cuisine because, until now there seemed to be no need for it."
How times have changed. I would say that, as a good example, The Guardian newsletter is at least half, if not more all about vegetarian and vegan dishes. And I'm pretty sure that most of us these days eat at least one vegetarian meal a week.
Later in life, looking back on that first book Madhur Jaffrey said of it:
"The first cookbook is really the food I knew from my childhood, and that too, as I look back on it, was a smart decision, because it was a good way for me to start — to start with what I knew, and then go on to write about other parts of India, which I had to learn, because I didn’t know all of it. Nobody really knows all of India."
And there she is in 2019 at the age of 85 celebrating the publication of her 30th book. Well Wikipedia says she is now 89 which doesn't quite add up, but anyway - she's old and still going strong. Without her I think a whole lot of people in the world would have missed out on a massive amount of pleasure and joy. We haven't had any Indian food for a while now. Time to put that right.