Monday 11 March 2013

Personal Taste

Growing up in Hastings (Sussex) with our Mum (The Pud Lady) as an excellent cook we tended to be fed good UK fare - meat and 2 veg, steak and kidney puds, roasts, stews, grilled cod and so on. We had an excellent butcher in Ore Village (nearer to us than Hastings Town itself) and a fine game supplier within easy range so we occasionally went in for venison casseroles but never cared to venture into spicy 'foreign' stuff like Chinese food or curries or chillies. I don't remember ever sending someone out for a take-away or even fish and chips (though surely as three boys we were in a chip shop individually now and then). The most adventurous we seemed to get was a lovely spaghetti bolognese recipe. At one stage Mum was Librarian in Hastings College of Further Education and had access to the staff-shop which sold some of the output from the college's most excellent chef-school so there were sometimes exotic fare like dressed crab and the more exotic casseroles. I might be remembering this inaccurately and the brothers or Pud Lady will correct me if I need it, but it all seemed to be good stuff and it never did us any harm.

As a result, I grew up very shy of anything spicy or hot. Once I'd left home and was looking after myself through Uni I did get into Chinese cooking and made some nice chillies but never went too hot and I still steered clear of Indian restaurants. In those day, for University lads anyway, getting a curry was all about lager as Dutch courage before a macho-test of who could eat the hottest curry. I was always going to lose those contests and would always be asking trusted friends who knew their way round menus, to choose me some mild stuff which I'd then dilute further with as much rice, yogurt or tzatziki (mix of yogurt, mint and cucumber) as I could get hold of and a glass of water. It all seemed a bit pointless to me. The courses seemed to be largely a very small quantity of meat in a lot of very spicy sloppy sauce. I couldn't identify the meat half the time and wondered why I was there. Maybe I was just in a succession of poor restaurants? I kept hearing that this wasn't REAL Indian food, but just some spiced up fare cooked to suit the appetites of the westerner lads on the way home from the pub.

Recently, I am delighted to find that this might actually be true, and that you can eat Indian food which is just 'interestingly' spiced, not lip-tinglingly hot. It can have plenty of good, identifiable meat in it and real fresh vegetables. It does not have to be drowning in sloppy sauce. Meet Indian celebrity chef and cookery book writer, Madhur Jaffrey. Admittedly most of you probably already have and are well familiar with this stuff and you may have kitchen store cupboards full of tupperware and jars stuffed with sachets and packs of cumin seeds, fenugreek seeds, peppercorns, black mustard seeds, termeric, cayenne, tins of coconut milk, and fridge-door shelves full of fresh ginger root, fresh chilli and so on.

We treated ourselves to the book last August (for Liz's birthday) and have since been on an exciting voyage of discovery through the spice and ingredient shelves of our excellent Indian shop in Balla-D, "Hidiyat's" and through the recipes in the book. We have done some veg dishes (including an okra one) and no end of different stuff involving our own lamb; the 'meat', but also the liver, hearts etc. We have done some excellent rice dishes and egg dishes. Without exception they have been delicious, interesting, 'bright' and fresh. Not once have we had to recoil from anything too hot and to decide to try again with smaller quantities of chilli or garam masala (and not once have we been asked to include "curry powder").

Yesterday was Mothers' Day so I decided to treat Feigh's own Mother-to-Many to a day off cooking and, further, that I'd do the whole day out of Madhur's book AND cook nothing I had ever cooked before. A bit brave, maybe? Well, I am delighted to say it all worked well, all be it, there were two small lapses away from this original plan. Breakfast was Madhur's "Spicy Scrambled Eggs" which I had done before. Then the lunchtime snack plan for her Goa style mussels fell foul of lack of mussels, and I subbed in a savoury-bite recipe using anchovy, cheese, olives and cayenne pepper which wasn't actually out of the book.

The main meal, however, stood up to the ideals and we a great success. Liz said it was so nice that she could have kept on eating away snacking on it , returning all night for a wee bit more if only we had one of those hot plate things. It was in three parts, a chicken course, a cabbage/peas recipe and a mushrooms and rice thing. The chicken (Chicken with roasted coriander in a coconut curry sauce) involved browning the jointed chicken in oil flavoured with mustard seeds and cinnamon, then simmering it in a coconut-milk based sauce with all the other stuff in it. It was mild, tender, meaty and gorgeous. The chicken was actually our first home grown bird, one of the young roosters hatched before Christmas. The cabbage and peas thing involved shredding the cabbage finely and then sweating it in oil flavoured with bay and cumin, with turmeric and cayenne. The rice dish involved frying off mushrooms and onions, garlic, ginger, garam massala, then adding the rice and then the water so that the rice boiled to soft picking up the flavours of the rest.

All very yummy. Hard concentration work but not that complicated (I managed it!) and a delicious reward. Indian food without blasting your taste buds. What's not to like?


Cinquecento said...

I understand that when the picture of Mrs Deefer was taken, she'd just read the bit of 'Little Women' where Beth dies - hence the tissue, bug eyes and red nose.

Care Towers said...

True enough Matt. Susan & I were only recently trying to compare notes on when we first had rice, or garlic, or chilli, or whatever, and relative to our own kids' experience, it was a woeful story... both of us felt like it was "when we left home"!