This month's challenge has been to cook a series of curries. While we both absolutely love the stuff and can eat copious quantities of almost any variety, I have to admit that our homemade versions lack a certain something. They quite often, despite best intentions, all taste the same and rarely stray from a riff on a masala. Therefore the decision was made to go back to first principles and put ourselves through a self-taught school of curry. This has involved considerable recipe research (Rick Stein, anything by BBC Food and Meera Sodha proving particularly favourite), restocking the spice cupboard and putting up with the flatulence that only bowlful after bowlful of dal can create.
We certainly aren't at the stage of developing recipes or really going very far off piste, and unfortunately we don't have any pearls of wisdom from an obliging Naanii, but we wanted to share what we have learned through our curry journey so far...
1) KNOW YOUR ONIONS: and when it says to get out a food processor and blitz the onions, do it. I genuinely think that it makes a difference.
2) DAL AND DAL AND DAL AND DAL: Basically, if it looks like a lot of lentils at the beginning, it will sure as hell be a lot of dal by the time you finish. I swear the little blighters quadruple in both size and volume. If you don't think you could eat 2kg of baked beans in a week, you probably can't eat the same of dal.
3) DITCH THE MEAT: Despite being from a family of die hard carnivores where even chicken is considered "not really meat", when it comes to curry I am a born again vegetarian. Without a word of a lie, I just don't think you really need it.
4) DON'T SWEAT THE SIDES: enough pots and pans and blood, sweat and tears will be used making the curry, or curries, itself. You are unlikely to have a tandoor to hand and large pans of boiling oil on the hob while in a cooking frenzy is generally a bad idea. Don't tie yourself in knots by attempting a whole plethora of bread and rice accompaniments; the stuff you buy in the shops are perfectly acceptable. And, in the case of microwaveable poppadums, quite miraculous.
5) YOGURT IS YOUR FRIEND: it can save pretty much anything. Too spicy? Too dry? Under catered? In all these situations we have either lobbed some yoghurt into the curry or whipped up a quick raita. Winner.
6) MORE THAN MANGO: A crispy poppadum slathered in mango chutney goes together like, well, marmalade on toast. However, we have been pushing the pickle and chutney barriers with satkara, banana and tomato also put into rotation. Banana, unsurprisingly, is wondrous with coconut curries and satkara with beef and lamb. If nothing else, your cheese toasties will also thank you.
7) MORE IS MORE: It may often be said that curry tastes better the second day but this doesn't make it any less true. The flavours do seem to develop and take on extra depth so make a tonne of the stuff and make sure you have leftovers; if you are the kind of person who "doesn't do leftovers", I'm afraid we can't be friends. If it turns out - like us - you can't eat 2kg of dal (see above), then whack it in the freezer. Most curries seem to be better when made in large batches, becoming the freezer gift that keeps giving.
A quick top seven of the things we have learned - through both trial and error - so far. More of our curry progress will, no doubt, be featured on Instagram soon and any curry recipe recommendations gratefully received!