Title: The Great Curries of India
Author: Camellia Panjbi
192 pages; Hardcover PhotographyColor
Simon and Schuster, Ny, NY 1995
Reviewed by, Heidi Safford, March 2007

The review---

The Great Curries of India is a lesson in Indian culture and cuisine as well as a source of many varied recipes. The book has beautiful pictures of almost all the recipes and full page layouts with color pictures of herbs, spices and chilies. The left and right margins are lined with beautiful photographs of tapestries.

The first 50 pages of the book introduces readers to the philosophy of Indian cuisine and the principles of how to make a curry, or gravy as the word is commonly used in India today. There is an overview of Indian geography as it relates to the food cooked in different locations. Although readers may be temped by the beautiful pictures to rush straight to the recipes and start cooking, it is well worth taking the time to read the beginning of the book. In addition to learning about the thickening, souring and coloring agents used and which spices are used mainly for taste and aroma, there are some essential lessons to learn before firing up your stove. One important note that I almost overlooked, having read It'several days before I began cooking, was that the cookbook uses 7 fluid ounces to equal one cup.

Above each recipe, the author describes where, how and when the dish is served as well as some fun and interesting stories about the dishes. There is an intriguing chart on page 49 of the book which guides cooks through different types of curries based on the main protein or vegetable ingredients and adding thickening and souring ingredients, color, spices, chilies and accompaniments. The author suggests full menus for different occasions and wine pairings for each recipe. It is a very complete book.

I made four recipes from the book: Chicken Stew, a main dish, Egg Curry, a common home-style curry usually made for children, Moong Dal, or lentils and Kulfi, an Indian ice cream. The Dal and Kulfi were easy to make. The Chicken Stew and Egg Curry were more involved and had long ingredient lists, but no step in the recipe was difficult as long as the cook is patient and has plenty of time. The Chicken Stew was superb. My tasters, both children and adults, also enjoyed the Dal and Kulfi. The tasters felt the onion was a bit too strong in the Egg Curry, although everyone cleaned their plates. The Great Curries of India showcases the variety of flavors and ingredients found in Indian cooking and it can help an American cook prepare an Indian feast.

Recipes tested---


The word `stew' has become part of the Indian culinary vocabulary. In Southern India, stew is made with coconut milk and Malabar coast spices. In Kerala in particular it is commonly eaten with appams or rice flour pancakes for breakfast or Sunday brunch. In Northern India, even roadside eateries serve a mild curry which they can stew. The dish can be made milder still by reducing the green chile. But it is really aromatic. A lady from Kerala says that she thinks the combination of ghee and oil imparts a special flavor. The Keralites use very tiny pieces of chicken on the bone. But you can use small boneless pieces too. On the bone, this quantity will serve 4, but boneless should suffice for 5.

Serves 4-5
1-in piece of fresh ginger (half cut into thin julienne, the other half into pieces)
1 teaspoon peppercorns a little turmeric powder 2 onions, chopped coarsely 2-3 green chiles (serrano) 2 cups grated fresh coconut or I 0 cups tinned coconut milk
10-12 new potatoes salt, to taste
2 tablespoons oil 1 tablespoon ghee
1/2 teaspoon mustard seeds I cinnamon or bay leaf 2 garlic cloves, sliced lengthwise 2-in cinnamon stick
4 cardamoms 3 cloves
20 curry leaves (can substitute with 6 mint leaves)
1 3/4 lb boneless, skinless chicken pieces 1 carrot, peeled and cut into
3/-in strips
1/2 cup fresh or frozen peas teaspoon garam masala powder

1 Pound the ginger pieces (retain, the julienne strips for later), peppercorns and a little turmeric and make into a thick, uneven paste. Blend the onion and green chiles. If using fresh coconut, put the grated coconut in 21/2 cups water and blend to make an extract. Strain and set aside. If using tinned, add 1 cup water to 11/2 cups milk.
2 Scrub the potatoes and half-boil them in their skin with a pinch of salt and turmeric.
3 Heat the oil and ghee together in a cooking pot and when hot add the mustard seeds. When these seeds start to crackle, add the cinnamon or bay leaf. When the mixture has turned a khaki color add the garlic, cinnamon stick and cardamoms. After 20 seconds add the cloves and curry leaves. Then mix in the pureed onion and chile and sautee for 3 minutes. Add the chicken pieces and sautee for 2-3 minutes.
4 Add salt to taste, potatoes and carrot and cook, covered, for 5 minutes. Then add the coconut milk, peas and juliennes of ginger, sprinkle with garam masala powder and cook covered until the chicken is done.

A favorite Indian dessert, kulfi (opposite) is an ice-cream traditionally made by reducing the milk as a result of boiling it for a very long time. However, it is also easy to make with evaporated milk. Traditional kulfi moulds are made of aluminium but are now available in plastic. Alternatively you can make the ice-cream in an ice-cube tray.

4 tablespoons sugar
about 12 strands of saffron
3 cardamoms
3 tablespoons heavy cream
2 1-lb tins evaporated milk
2 leaves silver leaf, to decorate (optional)

1. Add the sugar and cardamoms to the milk in a heavy-based saucepan and cook over a low heat for 10 minutes, stirring and scraping the sides and bottom of the pan continuously. Remove from the heat. Remove the cardamoms and add the saffron. Mix well and leave to cool. Then stir in the cream.
2. Fill the kulfi moulds or pour the mixture into ice-cube trays. Freeze for 4-5 hours. Frozen kulfi keeps in the freezer like ice-cream.
3. To remove from the moulds, dip each into hot water and press out the kulfi. Decorate with silver leaf, especially for festive occasions.