I was over ambitious this weekend. I ran before I could walk and smashed, crashed and trashed the kitchen. Thankfully Mr H. was out. Instead my cookery guinea pigs were two old school friends. One had crossed half the country on rail replacement buses, to eat my food. More fool her, I may have thought. She is well aware of my culinary failures and knows me as the fussy eater who can barely put two slices of bread around a filling and call it a sandwich. But I was determined to make her train battle worth it. As back up I had plenty of gin to wash away taste and memories of any failures.
I turned to the reliable magic of Madhur Jaffrey. We have two books sat on our shelves written by the Indian master. Both packed with more spells and wizardry than a whole library at Hogwarts. One is her Ultimate Curry Bible. The other is called Curry Easy. No prizes for guessing which one belongs to Mr H. and which is mine. Armed with the elementary version and some sticky tabs I marked out more recipes than I could cook in a month, let alone fit on our kitchen table.
I cheated and rustled up a Kerala chicken curry and a punchy chutney the week before and froze them, but got my come-up-ants when I forgot to take this out of the freezer until midday on d-day. Without a microwave defrost button to hand, I had to confess my mistake to my friends when they arrived late afternoon to a kitchen covered in little tuperware pots of chicken desperately trying to defrost.
Luckily, considering my error, to me Indian food is all about the selection. There should be a rainbow of different vegetables relegating the meat to a side dish and second thought. We had purple aubergines in a North South Sauce, a kind of simmered down stock packed with spices. Green beans stir fried in cumin, mustard and sesame seeds. Some more indulgent lightly fried potatoes. And Dal packed with refreshing coriander to really lift it.
And here is the other beauty. The price. Your first attempt at Indian there is an endless shopping list of unpronounceable spices. But these are assets with an excellent ROI. Just a pinch of these magical flavours will transform the humble potato, recession-friendly lentil or poor unloved carrot into the richest dish, fit for a king.
And the sundries are key. I bought naan, popadoms, mango chutney and lime pickle. But I whizzed up some mint, almonds, peppers, lemon juice, cayenne pepper and dill to make the chutney. Some yoghurt with cumin, tomatoes, cucumber and seasoning made an excellent mint raita. Although I the key, title ingredient got left out in the rush.
But who knew mint raita could taste so good without the mint. I did say Jaffrey is a genius, her recipes even foresee for my errors!