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Why Madhur Jaffrey is the queen of Indian cooking

"Madhur Jaffrey, who was a brit TV cook before it became trendy to be one, presents curries from the entire spectrum. There are some that will take your head off and ones that will soothe your soul. but they will all wake up your palate and and a put a bit more excitement in your everyday. if you love curries, or even just reading about curries and their evolution and history, this is the one cookbook you need." Domestic Sensualist

I bought this book on a whim. I even ordered it online because I had come across someone on the net declaiming "this is the most delicious curry I have ever tasted" - and citing page 174 of The Ultimate Curry Bible. They didn't say what the curry was, so for one rash moment I just had to know and ordered it.

Well I'm a Madhur Jaffrey fan. I have several of her books and have never had a failure with any of her recipes. She is one of the good ones - one who doesn't fail. Much as Nigel Slater and Ottolenghi are heroes of mine, I have had the occasional failure. Not so with Madhur.

So what was on page 174? Well it was Aloo Timatar (Potato and tomato curry with green coriander). To tell the truth I'm not sure that this is it and I cannot find a recipe online. There is a Madhur Jaffrey recipe for a dish of the same name on The Independent website, from whence this picture comes, but the recipe is slightly different and seems to be from another of her many other books. It does sound and look delicious but I have to say that with a statement like that I was perhaps expecting something rather more substantial. But I shall try it some time, just to see.

I have, however, tried the very first recipe in the book - Kerala ka bhuna gosht (Kerala-style 'bhuna' lamb, pork, beef or veal and you can find this one online. Heaps of people have had a go at this. There is no picture in the book - the book is sparing with illustrations of the recipes - but below are two from Them Apples and Kitchen Flavours. They look a little different from each other but they would wouldn't they, particularly as the first was made with lamb and the second with pork. I made mine with beef. I see that I have said it was very good - which is a bit of an ordinary comment I have to say, but I also said it was simple.

It's a very good recipe to illustrate her approach in this book though because on the page opposite is an essay on The origins of bhuna. Which term (bhuna) it turns out, means 'the act of browning'. Half of the essay is about the dish's origins, how it is eaten and what it is related to and the other half is personal history. Tales from her early life in India.

And on the next page there is a variation which she calls Malai Gosht (Lamb with cream), which the Them Apples lady has made as well. There is no picture in the book or 'official' recipe online, but a couple of bloggers have given this one a go as well.

And this is how the bulk of the book goes, after a very lengthy and very comprehensive introduction on how curry has spread around the world, she introduces us to samples of curry from just about everywhere. We probably all know about the British and 'curry' but not about the rest of the world. So it's interesting to learn about it all, although, dare I say, the writing is a little dry. She is informative but not poetic. Friendly, curious and warm would be good words to use though.

She uses the term 'curry' because:

"For the purposes of this book, I have designated as a curry any Indian or Indian-style dish with a sauce; just as the British colonialists, who controlled India for centuries before I was born, defined it. It is not exactly my definition. Indians tend to call dishes by their individual names when speaking in their own languages and serve both wet (that is with a sauce) and dry (those in which the sauce is non-existent or reduced) curries. But the British definition seems to have stuck, so that is the one I use here."

For this book is not about purely Indian food. No - it is really about the influence of Indian cuisine on the rest of the world - up to and including the USA - a latecomer to 'curry'. In this book there are curries from just about everywhere including the South Pacific, Africa and the West Indies, as well as the obvious South East Asia - and those Anglo-Indian foods about which I have been writing here and there.

In one of life's little coincidences, she writes a short essay on 'The Japanese love of curry' opposite a recipe for Japanese-style beef curry. There is no picture nor is there a recipe online, but this picture is of a Japanese beef curry. And yes she mentions those curry roux blocks that I mentioned the other day in my Sundries post. Looks a bit glutinous to me.

"It is the roux that makes Japanese curries different from all others in the world. Some believe that Indian curries came here via Shanghai, where there was a huge Indian population, and that the flour-thickened and slightly sweet sauce has links to Chines cuisine. Others think that it is the beef stews (nikujaga) containing round onions, carrots and potatoes, introduced to Japan in the 19th century in order to make the population taller and more Western-sized, that are the true progenitors.

The roux, which comes in chocolate-like slabs, contains stocks, thickeners, fats and curry powder. It can also have coconut milk or evaporated milk to provide creaminess."

I seem to remember that Adam Liaw thought that it was a French influence via French traders.

Her recipe doesn't use those 'chocolate-like slabs' though. She does it all from scratch. Well she would. Madhur is not really a short-cut lady although, that said, the back of the book contains a very useful section of how to make various different curry pastes.

I flicked on from that first recipe in the book, and honestly I could make all of them. I think the next one that I shall try though is this - Palaak gosht (Moghlai lamb with spinach). I guess it's a standard Indian restaurant dish but it's certainly one that I often choose. So - yes that is next and the next one after that, just to demonstrate that I'm not just sticking to the Indian recipes is

Vietnamese pork with lemongrass which is reproduced on the seemingly very shortlived blog - Cooking, Love and Travel.

I suspect there is a bit of a love affair with glorious photographs of food here - we all know I'm a sucker for that - but I did read the recipes as well and they sound very doable and very delicious.

It's a wonderful book and like most of my books I should use it more often. There just aren't enough days left in my life in which to try everything.

I think that Indian food is one of the great cuisines of the world. I do not remember now when I first ate Indian restaurant food back in England, so I cannot include one in my most exciting meals ever eaten. I haven't really ever eaten a really grand Indian meal either - other than that food we ate in Delhi on our way to our new life in Australia. I do remember my first attempts at cooking my own Indian food, although that wasn't from a Madhur Jaffrey book. She came later into my life than that first little book and later than Charmaine Solomon too, but once discovered I have become a fan and now own several of her books. You might have thought that yet another one was repetitive, but no - I shall be diving in more frequently in future I think and am looking forward to exploring some of those more unexpected curries s.

"While Indians have remained hung up on the details of regional cookery, in a master stroke of unconscious marketing the British have managed to generalise the cuisine, popularise it and sell it to the whole world. They did it because they loved it so much themselves."


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