I can't believe that it's now more than 2 years since the very first UK (and Ireland) foodblogger meeting took place... one sunny afternoon in May at our old house in Twickenham. We've had many merry get-togethers since, be it to just eat and have fun, check out the newest hypes in the restaurant scene, meet food bloggers from abroad or cook together - the latter being a more and more popular reason to meet up.
This month, I invited Padmaja of Spicyandhra to give us (that's Anne-Sophie, Bill, Bonnie, Jeanne, Xochitl and myself) an introduction to Indian cooking... thinking we'd learn all about Chicken Tikka Masala, Jalfrezi, or Korma (for the faint-hearted) and other staples of most British households. We couldn't have been further from the truth.
Coming to think if it, it is obvious that there is not one Indian cuisine... the subcontinent is so vast and its population so varied that you can find plenty of different cooking styles depending on where you go. And of course, there's the biggest Indian outpost right here in the UK. The country's century-long connection with India has brought along a love for Indian food, but surprisingly little understanding of it - according to Padmaja, the aforementioned dishes are nothing but an invention for the British palate!
Don't think we were disappointed... the dishes Padmaja taught us to cook were all delicious in themselves and certainly achieved one thing: at least for me, it took the fear out of cooking Indian. Mixing your own curry paste is not that daunting and, contrary to popular belief, does leave lots of room for experiments.
We started with Padmaja's signature dish and all took turns at sweating over placing a a handful of dough into boiling oil with our bare hands: lentil soup with lentil doughnuts was mildly spicy and incredibly aromatic, the doughnuts might be a bummer for the hips, but they're a real joy for the palate! Next some aubergine and potato bajjis - again, not a lump of grated vegetable like in (supposedly) Indian restaurants here, but just slices of them dunked in a subtly aromatic batter and deep-fried golden brown: eaten with a salad of raw red onion, I bet none of the participants of our little workshop had trouble finding a seat on the train back!
As a main course, we enjoyed a chicken curry, but unlike many Anglo-Indian concoctions, this was rather "dry" for want of a better word, not swimming in a sea of quite calorific sauce. Lots of tomato and a great masala paste made from fresh coconut, ginger, and dry spices, then interlaced with fresh coriander leaves and plenty of chilli, we needed a fair amount of (also home-made) chapathis to stand the heat. This and a delicious mint rice (with more green chilli) had me longing for more, more, more.
Most Indian cookbooks I know have such a daunting list of ingredients that you're almost put off by it - the first time I tried, ten years ago in Vienna, I had to clarify my own butter (ghee) before I could even think of starting, and I was unfamiliar with most of the spices. Here, however, we mostly used things that are staples even in my household: plain oil, cumin/caraway and coriander are both seeds that we use a lot in Austrian cooking as well (see my traditional roast pork) and so are poppyseeds, chilli is something I use very often, dried as well as fresh, coriander leaves I love and have all the time, ginger is widely available as well, the only things that might not feature on your daily shopping list are fresh coconut, curry leaves and gram flour - but it's definitely not like you need to buy a whole battery of spices that you'll never use up! Especially not since these dishes were so good that I will want to make them again and again...