Two things are seemingly guaranteed in discourse around Indian food in the US. Many non-South Asians will refer to it with the shorthand “curry”, and just as predictably Indian Americans writing about Indian food will periodically rail against this shorthand, sometimes going so far as to issue denials of the very existence of curry. Here, for example, is Madhur Jaffrey in 1989 supplying a Chicago Tribune article with its dramatic title, “Let The Truth Be Known: There Is No ‘Curry’ in India”. And here now in 2019 is Khushbu Shah with a tweet that reads “Indians don’t eat curry, colonizers eat curry. Never forget.” And these are just two examples. If you do a quick bit of googling of phrases like “curry in India” you’ll find plenty of other denials of its existence. There is only one problem with all of this: it’s not true. Indians cook and eat curries happily and have been doing so for a long time. Why then do some people of Indian origin in the West keep denying the existence of curry as an Indian thing, and also relatedly the existence and use of curry powder in Indian kitchens? Let me try to explain. Continue reading
My review of the The Chilli Pickle in Brighton, posted two weeks ago, included a critique of certain developments in Indian restaurant culture in the West in recent years, having to do with both food and interior design. Here now is a review of a place that continues to ignore all culinary trends and has no interest in decor of any kind: the venerable Lahore Kebab House in Whitechapel.
Before I get to the review let me deal with the objection that this is not an Indian restaurant per se, and that this is signaled in the very name of the place. This is, of course, true and it is not my intention to enact a campaign of culinary colonialism. It’s also true, however, that Lahore is only about 30 miles from Amritsar and passports aside there’s nothing separating the cuisine of Lahore Kebab House from that of the average north Indian curry house. So while it is of course correctly described as a Pakistani restaurant, at least from a culinary perspective we can refuse to go along with partition. Or we could just ignore national markers and call it Punjabi cuisine, which it is. Continue reading
Back to the United Kingdom, and this time a little further south from London, to Brighton. But first some half-baked thoughts on two major developments in Indian restaurant culture in the West that have gone hand in hand in the last half decade or so.
The first is a move away from the heavy cuisine of the old curry house—ye olde north Indian staples awash in cream and nut paste. This has been a move towards menus that either putatively zoom in on foods of specific regions or offer a pan-subcontinental tour or various versions of street food. (I say “putatively” because it’s the rare restaurant that does not hedge its bets with dal makhani or chicken tikka masala or naan somewhere on the menu.) This development I largely endorse: curry house menus are all substitutable and the difference between fancy curry houses and crappy ones is largely that of price. More places should give us other things to eat. Continue reading
Here’s my fourth review in a row of an Indian restaurant in London. After south Indian meals at Quilon and Malabar Junction and two rounds of the Cinnamon Club‘s take on contemporary pan-Indian cooking, here now is a meal featuring the north Indian food that most people outside India think of when they think of Indian restaurants. Yes, my friends, we’re at a classic curry house this week: Punjab. Located in the Seven Dials area, at the border of Bloomsbury and Covent Garden, Punjab is not, however, merely another curry house: established in 1946, and at the current location since 1951, it pre-dates iconic places like Tayyabs (opened in 1972) and Lahore Kebab House (a similar vintage); indeed, it claims to be the oldest north Indian restaurant in the UK. We walked by it after an outing at the British Museum a couple of weeks ago, and remembering a friend’s recommendation of it as a solid place, we decided to stop in. You’ll never believe what happened next! Continue reading
This recipe is taken from one of my very favourite Indian cookbooks, Mrs. K.M. Mathew’s Flavours of the Spice Coast. A classic, published in 2002 by Penguin India, though written/compiled over a long period of time before that, it contains a large number of recipes, non-vegetarian and vegetarian, from Kerala. I regard it with the same kind of affection I have for my copy of Marcella Hazan’s Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking, and it is the only other cookbook on my shelves that I’ve thumbed through as often. That’s not to say that the two books are equivalent. For one thing, Flavours of the Spice Coast is not quite as comprehensive in its coverage of recipes. For another, it contains far less additional information on the recipes themselves (unlike in Vijayan’s The Essential Kerala Cookbook, you will not be told which community a particular recipe comes from). And finally, the recipes are not always terribly precise—you will sometimes get the feeling that a step or two might have been omitted or misheard in the transcription. Here’s the kicker though: every recipe I’ve made from this book has been dynamite. Buy it now, before going on to read the rest of this post; you won’t regret it. Continue reading
I’ve been stuck in a rut with mutton curries of late. It’s a delicious rut to be sure, variations on this basic Bengali-style approach, but it’s good to change things up. And so I did. This is an improvized recipe not trying to follow any particular regional style. In fact, what I had in mind here is more Malay and Indonesian braised meat dishes with star anise playing a big role. It’s not that star anise is not used in Indian cooking (it’s a common component of garam masala) but it’s not quite as ubiquitous as cinnamon, clove or cardamom—at least not in the meat dishes I’m used to eating or cooking. It’s the presiding whole spice here, along with cardamom, especially aromatically, but the sweetness it imparts is cut by vinegar on the palate. No tomatoes are used, which results in a “darker” flavour profile. Anyway, I think it’s quite good: give it a go. Continue reading
Between being in Delhi (and briefly, Hong Kong) and being back and reporting on meals in Delhi and Hong Kong it’s been a while since I posted a recipe. Here is one that is a riff on how I normally make rajma, or North Indian style red beans.
I don’t usually go about making rajma with cauliflower (though I have been known to make it with kale). This just sort of happened because I had some cauliflower in the fridge that was just beginning to brown and it needed to be used up. But the result was very good and so, like the kind and generous person I am, I am willing to share the recipe with you.
As always with my bean cooking this is made with my friend Steve Sando’s Rancho Gordo beans, Yellow Indian Woman beans, to be exact. Not sure what’s going on with the name of that bean but it’s an excellent bean and very well suited for rajma style preps as it holds its shape well and the pot liquor does well with spices. Continue reading
I’ve previously posted a recipe for mutton curry in a typically Bengali style. Here now is a variation on that made with a lot more tomatoes (which are the source of the redness). It’s a very easy recipe, especially if you have a pressure cooker—but it can very easily be done on the stovetop or even in the slow cooker. By the way, in case you don’t know, when Indians say “mutton” we mean goat; you can just as easily make this with lamb or even beef; I wouldn’t suggest it with chicken as the lower cooking time with chicken may result in a sauce that’s dominated too much by the large amount of tomatoes used (over the longer cooking time on the stove-top, or over 30 minutes in a pressure cooker, with more richly flavoured meat, the tomato integrates well with everything else). Continue reading
I often rail about the nut paste-laden, heavy dishes that have come to define Indian food for those who know it largely/only from Indian restaurants in the West; and so I am happy to present a recipe of my own that relies heavily on nut paste. Well, it’s not my recipe, really; it’s another recipe from the aunt I keep talking about, she who is one of the great cooks of the extended family (though perhaps in second place overall in my unofficial rankings). This is a recipe for mutton korma (mutton=goat for Indians) but there’s no reason you can’t make it with lamb or beef if that’s easier for you; or any reason why you couldn’t try to adapt it for chicken as well.
Before I get to the recipe (which, as you will see, is a bit of a cheat), a quick, unreliable note about “korma”. Continue reading
My normal tendency with pork shoulder is to cube it and do something vaguely vindaloo’ish with it (see here and here). On Sunday, however, I was feeling too lazy to cut the shoulder up and didn’t really want to stand over the stove on another hot day. And so, I decided to marinate the whole thing and bung it into the fridge for a day and deal with it on Monday, forecast to be a much cooler day. I am happy to report that the weather did not play me false and that the improvized spice rub worked out really well. I did overcook it a little bit—I don’t do whole roasts very often and when I do, I don’t like pulling things out of the oven to stick meat thermometers into them; I play it by feel instead and sometimes it goes a little bit over. Not the end of the world, and the more capable roaster (such as yourself) will have no trouble getting that part of it fixed to your satisfaction.
Anyway, on to the pork! Continue reading
In English English mutton is sheep meat (i.e. grown up lamb). In Indian English, however, mutton is goat (ideally kid). How this linguistic divergence came to be, I have no idea, but I am going to speculate that it may have something to do with the kitchens and tables of benighted English colonial types in India during the Raj. If you can either confirm or deny with confidence, please write in below. Anyway, mutton is one of the staple meats of India, though not eaten quite as widely as chicken, which is cheaper (if you’re interested in how meat eating in India is distributed by region and type, see here). And across the country there are many iconic preparations of it—and not just in biryani form (mutton is the meat par excellence for biryani, though you wouldn’t know this from Indian restaurants abroad).
Yesterday you made paneer (you did, right?); now here is something to make with some of that paneer.
Matar-paneer (literally peas-paneer) is a fairly ubiquitous dish on Indian restaurant menus in the US but, as with almost everything on most Indian restaurant menus in the US, often drowned in cream. The recipe below is a version of the basic way in which it is made in most homes in North India: a tomato sauce with clean, bright flavours that offsets the paneer nicely, with the peas providing textural contrast.
It is a very easy recipe, calling for not very many ingredients, most of which you probably have on hand, with a very light touch with the spices. Continue reading
Along with some friends we recently purchased half a steer headed to slaughter. It was a fairly large animal and even after processing and dry-aging for about three weeks our share of the meat came to about 80lbs. I’d purchased a very large freezer to hold the meat easily (the last time we did this our regular freezer was overwhelmed) and it is so big that 80 lbs of beef barely took up any room in it. So, of course, I went out and got half a pig (being able to do this kind of thing on a whim is among the few benefits of living in a semi-rural part of the upper Midwest). The goddamned freezer still seems less than half full and we have a lot of beef and pork to eat. Luckily, these are all animals raised without hormones and antibiotics and in fairly “humane” conditions. Anyway, all this is to say that those of you interested in my recipe posts can look forward to a fair number of beef and pork recipes in the months ahead. (And goat and lamb too—this is a monstrous freezer indeed.)
First up, here’s a version of a spicy and tangy pork dish that I have been making to some acclaim for about 10 years now. The exact ingredients are never quite the same and I vary the consistency of the gravy from time to time, but insofar as it is constant it’s a rough pass at versions of some pork dishes I’ve eaten in the homes of family friends from southwestern parts of India. So it’s not a specific regional recipe; but, to blow my horn twice in one paragraph, it is very good. Try it; you will like it. And if you have the ingredients it is very easy to pull together. Continue reading
A while ago I posted a recipe for a “hybrid” chicken curry that I more or less improvised. Today I have a recipe for the basic chicken curry that is eaten in homes all across north India. I don’t mean to suggest that there is (only) one identical chicken curry eaten in homes all across north India, only that these curries (and this one) are members of the same closely related family, with a bit of ingredient variation in different regions, and proportions of spices (or even the exact ones used) varying in homes. But basically this is a familiar template for most north Indian home cooks: you heat up oil, add some whole garam masala to give it fragrance; saute onions and then ginger-garlic paste; then add ground spices; then add the meat; then a souring agent (tomatoes, usually); then water; cover and cook till done; serve with rice or parathasa/chapatis. And that is what I am doing here.