The thing that I haven’t told you about yet is the terrible, crippling impediment that my mother had in her cooking life: my father.
My father was “allergic” to foods so numerous that to list them would take hours. Some were genuine allergies (like cucumbers. . . although I suspect this may have been the only genuine one), some were the results of the war (eating raw potatoes in the war put him off potato skins for life, although not the inside of potatoes), some were really irritating (tomato – whether raw or cooked), and some ruled out whole nations of cuisine (curry and chilli). There were many more. In the spirit of transparency, I must admit that I didn’t help my mother much either – three of the vegetables that my father WOULD eat, I wouldn’t – mushroom (genuine allergy), broccoli and cauliflower (Just really don’t like them).
So curry in my house was an unknown entity. My mom and I would occasionally eat it when my dad went away, but that happened seldom. And because my mom didn’t cook it often, she didn’t really know how to. When I moved out of my parents’ home, I had no idea how to cook curry. I thought that basically you added a spoon of curry powder to a stew. My boyfriend (who is now my husband) was not blown away by the subtle spicing of my curries. Now at the time I was lecturing, and after a particularly unimpressive attempt, I decided to ask the advice of one of one of my Indian students. (Please remember that in the late 90s we were busy being a rainbow nation and were not as worried about cultural stereotyping and cultural appropriation. Nobody was offended.)
And she gave me a good basic recipe for curry that I have built on since that time, but I still use as a starting point.
In a pestle and mortar, prepare coriander and cumin seeds.
Fry onion, garlic, ginger, the coriander and cumin seeds, and a generous helping of curry powder, to taste (I am still often too conservative with this).
Brown your meat in the mixture then add a tin of tomato (there is a really nice one especially for curry that I have recently discovered) and a tin of water. Add salt and pepper.
Add a whole red chilli (or two) to the mixture. Cover and cook – depending on the meat but at least an hour. Towards the end of the cook, I add frozen veggies, giving them at least 15 minutes. You can be more of a domestic goddess and add fresh, but then remember to get the cooking times right!
Serve with fresh coriander and yoghurt. We always have it with yellow rice (add turmeric to the cooking water) but I also love it with naan bread (from the shop!)
Since then, I have – with the help of various recipe books – learnt more about using different flavours and creating different tastes. Sometimes I add a bit of yoghurt or buttermilk. Sometimes I use chilli and cinnamon and paprika, and recently I have discovered the joy of Garam Masala. I’ve learnt to play.
But at the end of the day, I always come back to the basic recipe that I got all those years ago. . . and as I eat, I feel sad for my mom who regarded curry as about the biggest treat a human being could have!