Monday, July 8, 2013

660 Curries by Raghavan Iyer

I didn't do as much reading and gardening as I had expected during my recent month of holidays, but I sure had fun in the kitchen. Cooking is something I enjoy, but working full time means I usually fall back on my old favourite dishes. Raghavan Iyer's cookbook 660 Curries inspired me to spend hours with complicated recipes, creating big piles of pans and dishes to wash... as well as tasty meals.

Iyer admits to the effort required in the introduction to Fried Potato Sandwiches (Vadaa Pav): "Let me be the first to tell you that this is a production. On the day I make it, it's all I eat for breakfast, lunch, and dinner -- oh and let's not forget afternoon tea." Fried potato and pea patties are topped with a roasted spice and peanut chutney as well as a cilantro and coconut sauce in a soft bun in this recipe from Mumbai. Delicious as it sounds, I didn't attempt this version of a veggie burger because I'm not keen on deep-frying my food.

One of the recipes that I liked best was 'Drumsticks' in a Spicy Yogurt sauce with Roasted Chickpea Flour (Sing Pitta). Drumsticks are a woody vegetable that isn't available here, so I substituted asparagus, as suggested. When local asparagus is in season, we eat pounds of it for several weeks straight. (We get ours from Edgar Farms at the farmer's market in Edmonton.) I think I'll try the yogurt sauce with peas sometime; it was a hit.

This isn't a vegetarian cookbook, but with 660 recipes to choose from, you can be sure that there are plenty of meatless choices. There are no illustrations (apart from a handful of glossy photos at the beginning) yet the descriptions that preface each recipe are enough to make me salivate.

The best parts of this book are all of the tips and general information. It's interesting to read even without preparing any of the dishes. Iyer explains how as many as eight different flavours can be obtained from a single spice, depending on technique (combinations of dry-toasting, frying in oil, grinding and soaking). I've been relying on my four main masala blends for too long and Iyer inspired me to go back to using more specialized combinations for each dish. My spice grinder hasn't seen so much action in a long time!

Iyer recommends using canola oil because it "has no flavour and does not assert itself." (He erroneously states that it is extracted from canola flowers, but it is actually from the seed.) I never use canola for two reasons: a) it's impossible to get GMO-free canola in North America and b) my sweetie and I both find it unpleasantly stinky. I went online to find out why other people don't complain about canola's fishy odour and learned that only a minority of people are sensitive to its smell. I used sunflower oil instead.

Anyway, I'm grateful to Lynne Rosetto Kasper, host of The Splendid Table podcast, for interviewing Iyer and bringing 660 Curries to my attention.

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