It wouldn't be out of order to say that curries and Indian food are as important to British food culture as a roast dinner and trifle. In surveys of the nation's favourite foods, curry is always in the top three, if not the overall winner. It's said that Chicken Tikka Masala as we know it was a dish created by chefs in Indian restaurants working in the UK when the penchant for eating in Asian restaurants really started taking off in the 1960s and 70s. Our Empirical links to India and its food go back centuries. The breakfast dish Kedgeree, for example, was enjoyed and returned to Britain by military personnel and colonists stationed in the country during Victorian times.
Despite all this, I have never made a proper curry. I've certainly eaten plenty and I've avoided cooking with sauces from jars for a long time, but I've tended to use pastes from jars to get them started. This would only be true Indian cooking if I'd slaved over the paste myself. It's the curry equivalent of making your own pesto instead of buying it ready made. I've already conquered that one. Who else could I turn to in this hour of discovery need than Madhur Jaffrey. She's one of my favourite people and yet I didn't own any of her books. I do now. I bought Curry Easy, her latest, and it's fantastic.
What I love about it most is that it doesn't just expose you to curry and rice, which tends to be what I think of first. It has brilliant recipes for side dishes, snacks and desserts too. For my first attempt I chose the Rajasthani Red Meat Curry, which is a lamb curry adapted by Madhur to make it more palatable than the original, which is apparently loaded with fiery chillis. Cooking the spices, which started out with cardamom, cloves and cinnamon sticks, was surprisingly exciting. The heady, warm scent they gave off as the hot oil sizzled around them was incredible. I found it impossible not to keep sticking my nose in the pan to inhale the scent.
I then added all the 'red' spices and some very finely diced red onion. The aroma only got stronger. I could easily have eaten just the contents of the pan with a thick slice of bread as a spoon, but I had to add the lamb and the water. I actually decided to use lamb stock instead of water to intensify the lamb flavour. I didn't want it to be lost in the spices.
I (im)patiently left the curry to cook with the lid on and cooked some basmati rice. Inspired by the vegetable side dishes in the book I made up my own recipe where I gently fried some Garam Masala and finely sliced garlic in oil before tossing in some shredded spring greens and simmering them in a little chicken stock. I was surprised at how quickly I took to experimenting the the spices myself without needing the book to tell me which ones might work well together. I think cooking Indian food may be my new obsession.