In the UK (and Ireland to a lesser extent) curry is part of the culinary lexicon. People who wouldn't eat the local food in places like Spain and Portugal will all eat curry on a regular basis. Every supermarket has a massive array of ready-made (and generally pretty good) sauces and chutneys and it's the number one choice for take out. Sadly, when it comes to making something from scratch it's pretty much a mystery unless you're Indian and have watched (closely!!) your mother and grandmother with the spices for years.
Indian food is such a complex mix of spices and flavours that without a rather long list of ingredients and very close attention to a recipe book most of us don't have a clue where to start. For as long as I can remember Madhur Jaffrey has been the touchstone for Indian cooking. Everyone I know has one of her books somewhere. Our tattered and splattered copy has literally thousands of recipes, no pictures and a lot of the ingredients are listed in their original language. Out of my depth and generally of a impatient disposition in the kitchen, I have generally left it to my much more methodical partner to prepare the Indian meals.
Recently, Jaffrey completely changed the way we cook Indian when she brought out Curry Easy, Random House 2010 or At home with Madhur Jaffrey as it is called in the US edition, a book that seeks to do the previously unthinkable - simplify and speed up Indian cooking. She says herself that over the years (she's now 78 and shows no signs of slowing down! ) her cooking had changed and that some of the processes she'd previously considered essential she now finds both time consuming and unnecessary. So, instead of cooking things for hours she says marinating can suffice when it comes to infusing flavour. The number of spices has been scaled back so there's less faffing around (sometimes just the thought of rounding up the 20 plus spices was enough to exhaust me). The resulting dishes are lighter and feel fresher than those of old and, best of all, they are completely delicious.
Everything we've made from this book has gone down a treat. First of all, we tried the Chicken Karhai with Mint which involved marinating chicken with pepper, cumin, coriander, lemon juice, garam masala and ginger overnight then simply frying it up the next day and it was superb. We served it alongside Aubergines with Tomatoes which was also great. After that we were hooked. Standouts so far have been Chicken with apricots, Masala fish steaks, South Indian Potato curry and the Green Lamb Curry.
It's a beautiful books with stunning photography and design. After a short introduction, the book is divided into 9 chapters which go from starters, snacks and soups, through fish, eggs and poultry, meat, vegetable, dal, rice, relishes finishing with an introduction to the basic range of spices used and techniques. While there isn't too much preamble with most of the recipes you don't need it. With Curry Easy you're in safe hands. Jaffrey has a wealth of experience so the recipes work. Like a lot of people, since buying Curry Easy I've found we cook Indian much more often and I'm finally learning to use the spices without constantly checking what each one is for.
My recipe is for one of Jaffrey's favourites Chicken with spinach and I haven't changed anything except lower the quantity of oil used. It's very quick and fantastically moreish. My kids, who are usually most suspicious of any spiciness, wolf this and that includes the spinach. This recipe feeds 4 of us and there's normally enough left over for lunch the next day.
Madhur Jaffrey's Chicken with Spinach
6 chicken legs separated into drumsticks and thighs weighing about 2k in total
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 medium onions roughly chopped
5cm/2inch piece ginger, peeled and roughly chopped
6 cloves garlic, roughly chopped
1 tablespoon sweet red paprika
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
3 tablespoon olive or rapeseed oil
2 x 5cm/2 inch cinnamon
8 cardamom pods
285g/ 10 oz spinach, chopped (defrosted and lightly drained if frozen)
Spread out the chicken pieces and sprinkle with 1 teaspoon salt and lots of black pepper on both sides
Put the onions, garlic, ginger, paprika and cayenne in the food processor and chop all the ingredients as finely as possible taking care not to allow things to go to mush.
Heat the oil in a large pan or wok. Add the cinnamon and cardamon letting them sizzle for a few seconds before adding as much of the chicken as will fit in a single layer. Brown the chicken pieces (in batches if necessary) on both sides then remove to a bowl leaving the spices behind. When all the chicken is cooked add the onion mix to the pan and fry for about 5 minutes until most of the liquid has evaporated taking care to stir as you go so things don't stick and burn. Add the spinach and 1/2 teaspoon salt and cook for a further 5 minutes. Add the chicken, 1/4 teaspoon salt and 120 ml/4 fl oz water. Bring to the boil, cover and lower the heat then gently simmer for about 30 minutes. Any excess fat can be removed before serving with boiled basmati and nan bread.