The Writing of Indian Cookery

May 16, 2007

Just finished an article for the Food Section of the Los Angeles Times.

Once again I realized how cooking procedures that I take for granted, only I take for granted and they may not be that self-evident to others. I had some sense of that when writing Curries without Worries. In an effort to help my readers relax I said dont worry,  just imagine if you had never fried an egg, and had to follow a recipe, the instructions would look very complicated indeed!

When the kitchen testers at the Times called me to ask how thick the sliced lamb shoulder should be, or should the onion be sliced in circles, or if the water for the stew should cover the meat, it brought to mind all the questions I was asked when my cookbook was first published. Since the whole idea of the book was to make Indian cuisine accessible, I was grateful for all the queries from my readers and hastened to address most of them in subsequent editions of the book. The experience was an eye opener. Now I try to strike an optimal note whenever I write cookery articles and it seems to work.

But, the wonderful truth about cooking a new cuisine is that you are not just putting together three dishes from major food groups to make a balanced meal. When you cook a cuisine other than your own, you are experiencing a culture, expressing a sentiment that is new and different. You are chopping, frying, blending, combining in ways that you did not grow up with, you will deal with ingredients in ways that you do not usually. The grocery shopping, the kitchen, and of course the food, everything will be different, but that is what it is all about. 

The fact is that no recipe can cover the rampant imagination of the nervous first time cook. And there is no point in anticipating every possible confusion in the mind of the cook, it would only result in a lengthy detailed recipe, and dissuade the most ardent cuisine enthusiast. Some part of the recipe has to rely on the previous experience and common sense of the cook, surely there is some thrill in the uncertainty of the outcome. A Swiss friend of mine, a great cook by the way, with a library of cookbooks, says she uses recipes as a guideline and then creates a dish that may or may not turn out exactly as prescribed. It gives her the creative freedom she wants.

When she invited me to a meal for the first time, not being sure which animals were taboo for me and which were not, she asked what would I like to eat. I had been intrigued by a photograph of a concoction in a cookbook by Marguerite Patten, that Grand Dame of British Cuisine. Yes, I know, I can see eyebrows go up at that, and I think I heard someone say it was an oxymoron. But Patten was my guide to western cuisine and her simple and effective recipes saved many a day for me in the US.

Anyway, the dish in question looked luscious and hearty and intricate and was none other than that favorite of the Alsace region called Choucroute Garni. And that is what J served us, it was a robust meal of sausages and sauerkraut, and other meats, but it was the first time I ate juniper berries and THAT was a revelation. The aroma and flavor took me right back to Kashmir, which like Shiva, for that lunch, I held in my mouth. 

2 Responses to “The Writing of Indian Cookery”

  1. kristenlovescurry Says:

    Greetings from an old friend who considers Indian food to be her favorite! I eat at Indian restaurants often but would love to learn to make a quick, healthy Indian meal at home. Are there recipes out there for relatively low-fat/calorie Indian dishes? Do you have any tips for making quick meals?

  2. ziaakthar Says:

    Delighted to read your description of a Kashmiri wedding! Made me feel so nostalgic. I attended a Kashmiri wedding in my family as recently as last year. They still do it in style.

    Curries Without Worries is just that. Recipes are easy to follow. I have cooked Shahid Ali’s Rice Pudding several times, and have had wonderful comments from family members and guests. The Haak recipes are mouth-watering.

    Thank you, Sudha. May I say you have found your calling?

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