Lately, I’ve become obsessed with Indian food, both eating it and cooking it. As a child, I was totally adverse to what Arch calls ‘spiky’ food. It wasn’t until I did some travelling in Thailand in my twenties and sampled a few real curries (many of which came from market stalls in sandwich bags) that I started easing myself away from mild, coconut creaminess into proper spice. Over a decade later I’m a, mostly, changed woman (though I’m not in Vindaloo turf yet).
I vividly remember my now husband taking me for dosas at Diwana on Drummond Street in London on our second date and being totally overwhelmed by the experience. The menu was completely alien to me, no kormas or biryani in sight and I had no idea what a dosa was, let alone if I’d like one. I asked him to order me the same as him to avoid the embarrassment of exposing my ignorance and I instantly fell in love with dosa, bhel poori, sambhar and, in time, with him.
Ever since I’ve been obsessed with good Indian food, particularly fixated on dal, really good matar paneer, dosa and just curry in general. The black dal at Dishoom has a very special place in both our hearts. Despite always threaten to reverse engineer it, in reality, I’d rather just have it with hot buttery naan and rich matar paneer at Dishoom and save on the disapointment when mine turns out to be less impressive.
My husband is a veggie and so instead of a traditional Sunday roast we’ll often have a veggie curry spread. Most of the curries I’ve cooked to date have been from various websites/blogs and I really wanted an Indian cookbook to add to my collection but wasn’t sure where to start. I asked a few mates about classic Indian cookbooks and, as you’d expect, various answers came back from classic Madhur Jaffrey to Maunika Gowardhan’s Indian Kitchen. A friend Hannah, who’s a chef, told me about Maunika about a year ago and having cooked a couple of really good curries from her website (Kashmiri Paneer Masala and this delicious slow cooked lamb curry that two hungry toddlers and their mums devoured) I decided to go for her book. When ‘Indian Kitchen’ arrived I took it to bed with me that night and flicked through it, looking for inspiration and gently folding over the pages of recipes I wanted to cook, of which there were many.
Often you need a stack of new herbs and spices when you explore a new type of cuisine but having invested in a few, very regularly used staples a while back, there wasn’t much missing from my arsenal. These days most the big supermarkets have an impressive selection of spices so it isn't tricky to track them down if you're missing anything. Unlike other faddish food trends these additions won’t set you back a tonne or sit languishing at the back of your cupboard, instead they'll be in regular rotation once you get as obsessed with tadka dal as me – especially in winter months when I know no better comfort food.
Of course, I had lofty ideas about what I would cook first. The book is broken down into chapters depending on how you feel – hungry, lazy, indulgent etc. I had planned to start with the indulgent chapter and work my way back to lazy but inevitably life got busy and I started with ‘hungry’ and ended on ‘lazy’! Ever since a friend brought me a takeaway matar paneer from her and her husband’s favourite Indian restaurant in Eastham which was unlike any other I’ve ever had I’ve become slightly obsessed with recreating it. So, naturally, I raced to investigate the matar paneer recipe in her book having made the one on Maunika’s website and I also opted for the obvious family favourite tadka dal as I knew Arch would eat it without a fuss.
Tadka dal takes a few core ingredients, little effort and is, in my book, the ultimate comfort food with fresh, warm layered paratha on the side for scooping. The texture comes down to personal preference, runny vs thicker and stodgier, I plum for somewhere in the middle. I’ve cooked a good few in my day and prefer making them with split red lentils over yellow (takes a lot longer in my experience) as this recipe does. It was delicious. A really nice mix of flavours and a good kick - just what I like in a tadka dal. Since I was cooking this to include a two-year-old I didn’t use both the chilis called for but stuck with one. Arch loved mopping it up with his paratha and though he did declare it ‘spiky’ it didn’t hold him back any.
The Jain-style Mattar Paneer is made slightly differently to how I’ve made it in the past. Being totally honest, I slightly messed up the key step of soaking then blitzing the spices, adding the tomatoes at the wrong point. I also started cooking this before I realised, I didn’t have any cashews and then Archie decided to sit on my feet and demand my attention just at the vital moment which meant I made a slightly distracted guess when pouring in the oil. The end result was a bit of a split oil slick and I had to spoon lots off in order to make it edible – purely my own fault I’d like to add. Once I had, both husband (another MP enthusiast) and son hoovered it up and gave it a big thumbs up. I am sure it would be even better if I a) had the right ingredients to start and b) followed the recipe properly. I plan to make this again when I don’t have a toddler under my feet demanding my immediate attention and I’ve bought some cashews.
I served both the dishes with layered parathas following a Madhur Jaffrey recipe (there’s a recipe for plain ones in the cookbook) and pilau rice. Another thing I loved was the fool proof recipe for fluffy rice at the back of the cookbook which is brilliant as this is a basic that is easy to get wrong - I know I've messed up rice more times than I'd like to admit!
I’ve got many more recipes earmarked for attention, the Keralan Kozhi Kuttan (chicken curry with chillies and coconut milk) and the Mumbai Frankie rolls are next on the list. This cookbook is filled with recipes that I want to cook, some inevitably have lots of steps involved and require more time but many don’t. It’s not intimidating, the steps are clearly set out and Maunika has added tips to many of the recipes making this feel accessible to a novice (which I consider myself). As often is the case in cookbooks now, not all recipes have pictures so unless you know what that dish should look like finished you may struggle or find it slightly off putting but don’t be. I think this is going to be a well loved and, more importantly, a well used addition to my collection.
Indian Kitchen is £19.99 CLICK HERE TO BUY