At around the age of 19 I discovered Indian cuisine. My knowledge of the food was exactly zero. Well thats not quite correct, I had read an article in the newspaper about a Indian Restaurant in a near by town being shutdown by authorities after the discovery of German Sheppard carcasses in the freezer. This is hardly the type of advertising that any world cuisine needs!

My first excursion into Indian was a dish named Chicken Dupiza. It was nothing short of exquisite. Chicken in a rich and luxurious sauce over a bed of nutty flavored rice. There was not a German Shepard in sight!

It did not take me long to discover many of the delights that the continent had to offer. From the delicate Korma, through the more robust Madras, to the somewhat fiery Vindaloo, and the hell on earth piece of purgatory called the Phall.

Into this mix there were the Shikh and Sami Kabobs, and the glorious world of the Tandoor oven.

Clearly  it was time for Simon to recreate some of these dishes in the peace and tranquility, OK the chaotic disaster zone that I tend to turn a kitchen into.`

The first mission was to do some research, a couple of trips to my favorite emporiums of ‘not quite new’ books proved fruitful. Logic told me that if I wanted to make the real thing, I should buy books written by people with Indian sounding names. I ended up with a curious selection of paperbacks by authors with exotic names such as J. S. Virshwami.

The recipes themselves did not appear complex, however I had to pass on a few. My ex wife and I had just bought an apartment in London, and I could see little chance of her permitting me to destroy the kitchen and build a Tandoor. I also suspect that there might have been some building code regulations against having a tandoor on the third floor of a Victorian house within the city limits.

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Obviously this would look less than attractive in a kitchen setting. However with a few cosmetic changes you can have this:

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Fortunately a Tandoor was not a requirement for many of the dishes. So I continued on.

The next major hurdle was ingredients. The average English Kitchen runs with a pretty limited number of herbs and spices. Pretty much it tops out at Salt, Pepper, Worcestershire and HP Sauce. For special occasions they might spurge and buy a sprig of Parsley (Christmas), or a bunch of Sage for Sage and Onion Stuffing, but thats about it!

The recipes that I was looking at had all sorts of exotic herbs and spices, and my first foray into Tesco’s (A large English Supermarket) did not go well. Obviously some evil person had beat me to it. There were no Cardinom Pods, no Saffron, no Basmati rice, and no fresh Cilantro, in fact the lady in the produce department had never heard of it and was sure that none was due in anytime soon. After getting a similar answer on the subject of Mangoes and Tamarinds, and suspecting that she was on the verge of calling the Store Security folks, I gave up on my quest for fresh produce.

Mr Virrshawmi had offered some advice in his book, if you cannot locate the specific items for your Masala (Curry) you can always fall back on a pre-made Masala. I headed back to the spice section. The M for Masala section was bare! I fared slightly better in the C for Curry area. They had three choices, Mild, Medium, and Hot. It seemed such a shame, the entire exotic cuisine of India had been reduced to Mild, Medium, or Hot.

I had out stayed my welcome at Tesco’s but like a good Brit I was consumed by the guilt of being in a store and not buying anything, So I headed home with Salt, Pepper, bottles of Worcestershire and HP Sauce, and a sprig of Parsley. The Parsley bothered me a bit because it was at least another four months till Christmas, would it last that long?

The answer to the Parsley question is NO! It was a couple of weeks later when my ex-wife asked me what the bag of green slime was in the back of the refrigerator. I was busted! “it’s only September” she exploded, “of course Parsley will not keep till Christmas”. It could have been worse, she at least gave me points for replenishing the Worcestershire and HP sauce stock.

I was back at square one, but I was bound and determined to crack it. If I was smart enough to know the strange habits of an IBM mainframe, I could crack the Indian food issue!

More soon.

Simon Barrett

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