Drawing together the traditional recipes from different Indian cuisines, Sameen Rushdie’s invitation to share in the pleasures of Indian cookery is irresistible.
In Hindustani a good cook is one that ‘has special taste in their hands’, and the author demonstrates her skill, knowledge and love of the food that is prepared and eaten in homes, bazaars and eating houses of the subcontinent. Bearing the needs of the modern cook firmly in mind, she explains her recipes in full, where the dishes originate, how to use spices, how to balance flavor, color and texture and offers suggestions for menus.
Sameen offers a marvelous array of meat, poultry and fish dishes, together with vegetable creations which will give heart to cooks at the end of their vegetarian repertoire. She explains where to find fresh ingredients and how to store, prepare and use them, and makes it clear which recipes are most suitable for the end of a busy day. She takes up the cause of the potato with some sumptuous suggestions, describes the intrinsic part daals play in an Indian meal, gives tips for cooking chawal (rice) in pullao and biryani dishes and provides recipes for chapattis, parathas and pooris.
There is an excellent introduction to spices; which explains their traditional groupings as well as their medicinal value, and a section on relishes, raitas and chutneys. Meethayor sweet thingshold a special place in Indian cuisine and recipes for these from the elaborate to the simple are included. There is also a discussion of hot and cold drinks.
Whatever your degree of experience in the kitchen, Sameen Rushdie offers not only clearly laid-out recipes, but a grasp of the actual thinking behind different cooking methods. Her menu plans and ideas about color, textures and flavors are a delight, and a meal prepared under engaging instruction will be a revelation to all who enjoy Indian cookery.
Covering meat, poultry, and fish, as well as vegetables, chutneys, relishes and sweet dishes, Sameen Rushdie’s book will be a revelation to all those who enjoy Indian cookery.
About the Author
Sameen Rushdie first learned to cook from her mother inheriting family recipes and secret tips that, in the traditional way, were passed down to her orally as no one used cookery books. She has professionally taught Indian Cookery to Adult learners but her greatest pleasure now lies in teaching the next generation from amongst her close family and friends. She loves the fact that she can break down barriers and simplify the process to suit a modern lifestyle without compromising the authenticity of the cuisine.
Read an Excerpt
The subject of 'Indian' cookery is as vast and varied as the subcontinent itself. When I first became seriously committed to doing this book the difficulty of capturing the essential spirit of all the major regional cuisines, even in microcosm, weighed on me greatly. I wondered whether I knew enough to present the banquet of flavours and experiences necessary to represent the full range of regional dishes and give you the opportunity of becoming acquainted with the incredible diversity that exists in the school of Indian cookery as a whole. I felt it was important to do justice to a cuisine that in the West has been shrouded in mystique and subjected to a mockery which has served to alienate many westerners from Indian food. Then suddenly I realized the trap I was unwittingly falling into was the same one that has historically often worked successfully to undermine the efforts of black people and of women. It could not rationally be my responsibility, even if it were within my power, to wipe the slate clean with a single book or to redress all the wrongs by writing a bigger book than I had experience to draw on.
Once I had reached, albeit by this circuitous route, the only possible conclusion that ever existed, that my book would be about my cooking and the food we eat at home, I felt in control again. But now I was uncertain about what I should call the cuisine ... Indian, Pakistani or Bangladeshi. One difficulty I have with these nationalist descriptions is that they don't tell you very much about the food. The other, and for me much more real, dilemma has to do with the pattern of my own life, our migration from India to Pakistan, and the influences on me of friends and relatives. It is not irrelevant therefore to tell you that I was born and grew up in Bombay, in a North Indian Muslim family that traces its origins to Delhi, Aligarh and Srinagar. I went to college in Lahore and much of my adult life has been spent in Karachi where my parents live, a city in which there is easy access to a variety of regional cuisines from Sindh, North-West Frontier Province, Punjab and even Uttar Pradesh, on account of the city's large Muhajjir population that migrated at partition. My exposure to Bengali cuisine came through marriage and was learned in London where I now live. So the cuisine contained in this book doesn't fit neatly into any one slot. Broadly speaking, the recipes you will find here are of a traditional nature and are drawn mainly, though not exclusively, from a North Indian Muslim culture, although I hope they will also reflect the important influences on me of other regional cooking. I believe that this sort of mixture is a more authentic reflection of the cooking you would experience in Indian, Pakistani or Bangladeshi homes where people freely borrow tastes and techniques from other styles of cooking to enhance their own.
In Hindustani, when people pay you a compliment for being a good cook they tell you that 'you have that special taste in your hands'. A person who has this sense of taste in their hands can cook anything and it will be delicious. I do not believe, however, that good cooks are born with some magic gift that sets them above the rest of us. Such myths were probably established by those who did not enjoy cooking and wanted to ensure they would never have to. It also seems likely that men were the original architects of such mythology, cleverly constructed to justify their resistance or refusal to share in the drudge of daily cooking by paying women lavish compliments which praised them for their patience, endurance and delicacy and, finally, endowed them with special powers: taste buds in their hands!
A person whose hands have been blessed with this sense of taste has simply through practice acquired the feel for cooking Indian food. It is similar to learning how to drive a car. You do it by the book to start with but slowly and imperceptibly you do it by reflex and instinct. At this stage of the learning process you can improvise, invent and take short cuts with every confidence that the meal you are about to produce will be no less tasty or authentic for having strayed away from the basic recipe.
There is no law written or unwritten that says to cook well you must be dedicated to the practice of cooking, or indeed even be fond of cooking. Most of us enjoy eating and that is the important thing. I have proof of this. The first time in my life that I ever cooked anything, I found myself in a situation in which I had to cook for my entire family for a whole week. Many years ago my mother suddenly had to rush from Karachi to Islamabad to be with my grandmother who was seriously ill. Throwing me in at the deep end, without a second's thought or hesitation, my mother sat me down an hour before her departure to explain to me how to cook some of those dishes most often eaten in our home. No concessions were made in the selection of dishes nor any allowances given in recognition of my status as a beginner in this field. I had the gravest doubts about whether I would manage to rise to the occasion or bring an acceptable degree of competence to the job and could foresee not only disasters in the kitchen but also my father and sisters refusing to eat anything I cooked. My mother dismissed all my concerns as silliness and insisted that there was nothing to it. She was, of course, right as usual. I produced meal after meal of delicious food and no one's amazement was greater than my own. Yes, it took me much longer than it does now but that was because I was so inept at chopping onions or peeling and crushing garlic; and so spoilt that I had never even washed rice. Her recipes were vague and my lesson went something like this:
HOW TO MAKE ALOO GOSHT
AMMA: Take a few onions and chop them up. Fry about half of them in ghee until they are a pinkish-almondy colour.
ME: How many onions? How much ghee?
AMMA: Oh, just a few. Maybe two or three, depending on their size.
ME: You still haven't told me how much ghee.
AMMA: About one or two cooking spoonfuls. The more ghee the tastier the food. If you find at the end that you have too much ghee you can always remove some from the top before serving. It's better to use a bit more than a bit less to cook with as it makes the food much tastier.
ME: What do I do next?
AMMA: While half the onions you have chopped are frying in the ghee, you should grind the other half and have them ready. When your onions are pinkish ... and remember not to let them get too dark as the final colour of your dish will depend on the colour of your onions; if you burn them you will have a dark-coloured gravy like they have in roadside cafés; if they are underdone your food will look bland and won't have that pretty, blossomed look. It really is better to get the right colour by doing your onions properly than by trying to make up for it later by the use of too many spices. ... Oh yes ... now where was I? ... Add the crushed garlic and grated ginger to the frying onions.
ME: Amma, you always forget to tell me quantities.
AMMA: About a teaspoon of each should be all right. You shouldn't need more than half a teaspoon of haldi and you may like to use two teaspoons of dhania powder, as that is what gives it its main taste. It is not essential but if you have some zeera powder handy you can throw in a pinch or two. Then just stir-fry the spices together with the browned onions for a few seconds. Be careful not to overdo this or you will find the spices sticking to the bottom of the pan and they may turn bitter and will certainly get too dark. The next thing is to add the remaining ground raw onion and then the meat followed by chopped tomatoes. The tomatoes should give out enough water to enable the lamb to simmer over a low flame. If you think it is necessary, or if the meat is tough from an old animal, you can add some water and let it cook gently. After about half an hour add the diced potatoes and let the food carry on cooking over a low flame until the meat is tender and the potatoes are cooked. You see, there's nothing to it.
I tell you, it worked. Although her recipe was vague when it came to describing quantities, she told me things which otherwise I could have learnt only by trial and error over a long period of time. What it proved to me was that it really is true that anyone can cook.
I have noticed a distinctly different approach to cooking in India and Pakistan to that which I have observed in England where people appear to follow their recipe books as closely as possible. I have never seen an English person cook for a dinner party without a recipe book open by the side of the cooker. It is equally true to say that I have never seen an Indian friend using a recipe book in quite the same way – at least not when cooking Indian food. The reason for this is that right from the beginning such blind dependence on written recipes is not encouraged. We do not have a tradition of learning to cook with the help of cookery books. When you first start to cook you are usually taught by someone in your family. Even later, if you are eating at a friend's house and are served with something that strikes you as unusual or delicious, it would be quite normal to ask how it was made. The recipe would be explained to you quite simply in a few minutes; you would have been told the basic ingredients used and given a short explanation of the method employed. It would be assumed that you had a basic understanding of the principles of Indian cookery, and there are clearly no hard and fast rules about quantities.
Tastes vary enormously and there is room within a single recipe to put one's own mark on a dish. There is, of course, such a thing as too much or too little – but somewhere in between those extremes there is a correct approximation of the right quantity. The same is true about the timing of the different stages at which the spices should be added to the cooking and the forms in which they are used. This touch is soon acquired by practice. For those of you who will only cook the occasional Indian meal it will probably be simplest and safest to use the quantities I suggest. If, on the other hand, you are someone who cooks Indian food regularly, you will yourself, I imagine, begin to use these recipes in much the same way as I use other people's recipes, as a source of new ideas. I read through the whole recipe to get a sense of the kind of food that is to be prepared, the method, the ingredients, their suggested quantities and proportion to each other and then I close the book and do it. This is not because I do not trust someone else's recipe but because I cook too much in my life to spend the additional time necessary to follow a recipe accurately – reading, weighing, measuring, and so on. Also it is crucial to remember that, however faithfully you may follow instructions, if you do not stop to think about what you are doing, and why, you will seldom be able to produce a dish of real excellence. This is because the most precise recipes cannot be thought of as scientific formulas programmed so as to be incapable of error. There are too many factors that are unpredictable that could affect the cooking process: the quality of meat, freshness of a vegetable, age of rice, hardness or softness of local water and so on. The best recipes and the best cooks will always make allowances for these variables and the quality of the dishes produced will then be marked by distinction and originality.
There are certain myths about Indian cooking that were developed during the days of the British Raj which have been painstakingly nurtured since. Racism has made the task of perpetuating the commonest of these myths easy. There is the overt and easily recognizable variety which tells us that Indian curries can be smelt a block away, are heavily overspiced, full of chilli and mouth-searingly hot! Haven't we all heard that this food is saturated in grease and so terribly overcooked that all meats and vegetables lose their natural flavour and goodness? Close runners-up are the exotic myths which feast on reminiscences of the days of the Raj and speak of the colourful East with its different alluring smells of intricately blended spices; stories abound of nostalgic memories of sahibs and memsahibs picnicking on succulent quail and partridge on elephant back, under gaily coloured canopies, while barefoot natives ingeniously serve the meal raised up on the elephants' trunks. We are told of the labour-intensive method of cooking because time is meaningless in India and people come cheap. We must believe that the best cooking is the result of elaborate and lengthy preparations because our finest dishes are handed down to us from kings, queens and nawabs whose vast slave kitchens devised dishes that were painstakingly and lovingly prepared: For best results cook your biryani by candlelight. I must admit that there are those of us who have colluded in spreading some of these messages. It was good business.
The truth is that Indian food does not have to be overspiced or full of chillies. In fact the best cooking always shows restraint in the use of spices and it is commonly known that ordinary cooks will use too many spices in large quantities in an attempt to camouflage an inadequate control over their art. It is also a fact that most of the spices commonly used contain valuable properties, vitamins and minerals and have medicinal qualities that cure or ward off illnesses such as heart disease, gout, ailments of the skin and so on.
I sometimes cannot fully believe how deep-seated is the conviction in those who have never cooked a single Indian meal that it is a hugely complicated business requiring elaborate preparation, endless patience and endurance. Certainly there are dishes that take a lot of fussing over – but so there are in all kinds of cooking. Just as European food has some quickly put together meals and other complicated ones, so do we. There are many wonderful dishes eaten in Indian homes every day that take less than an hour to prepare and cook. It should be remembered that it does not follow that just because these meals are simple and painless to prepare they are any less tasty than those which require a great deal of care and trouble. Dishes which are time-consuming like Haleem and Nihari, for example, have come to be regarded as special treats. This is not so much because they taste better than 'everyday food' but because they are cooked less often as the process is so slow. For those of you that have a 'slow cooker' or want to invest in one, even these meals become less of a chore. I know that it is commonly believed that cooking a roast or grilling chops is so much quicker and easier than preparing an Indian meal. I have yet to be convinced that this is the case. Another of the great advantages of Indian food is that there are very few dishes for which mealtimes have to be planned precisely. I think this is a big advantage both in daily life and at dinner parties. Food can be cooked well ahead, allowing your family or guests complete flexibility about when to sit down and eat.
On the whole it is now recognized that the word 'curry' is inappropriate and inadequate as a generic description of Indian/Pakistani/Bangladeshi food. It is difficult for me to use the word without hearing and being deeply offended by its racist connotations. In recent years many Indian cookery books published in the West have gone to great pains to explain the simple fact that in the subcontinent there are a wealth of dishes from different regions which are as unlike one another as the languages, customs and religions of the people who cook and eat them.
Britain now has large Asian communities who have brought with them the knowledge of traditional cooking methods and food habits of their families back in the subcontinent. Indian food is therefore eaten in thousands of British homes every day. I think it is important to understand the impact this is likely to have on British food as it has been thought of until now. In any case, it is no longer necessary, in my view, to look to India, Pakistan or Bangladesh and to talk about 'regional' foods in that context alone. Within the British Asian community there are Punjabis, Kashmiris, Gujeratis, Bengalis, Sindhis, Tamils, Sinhalese and people from Uttar Pradesh, Maharashtra and Hyderabad who may be Hindu, Muslim, Sikh, Parsee or Christian. There are also British-born Asians who, having been raised on Indian food, eat it every day although they may never have visited the subcontinent at all.
In those pockets of England where Asian people have settled in large numbers, this has meant that just about every conceivable ingredient needed to cook any Indian dish ever invented is available. In the Greater London area, in places such as Southall, Wembley and Brick Lane, the very atmosphere of a bustling subcontinental-style market where business is brisk, but the pace is leisurely, has been authentically recreated by the shopkeepers and shoppers. Prime specimens of tropical fruit, vegetables and herbs are displayed in abundance. Recently when my husband and I moved to Wembley and visited the Ealing Road market area for the first time, the pitch of excitement in both of us instantly rose to a dangerous level. It was as if we had turned off a busy English high street and arrived round the corner, in a dream, at some place thousands of miles away. Greedily we reached simultaneously for everything we saw, as if afraid that if we didn't hurry we might wake up. Two pairs of hands eagerly scooped up more than we could possibly cook, eat or even carry home ... tender young okra, Kenyan aubergines, fresh spinach in mid-winter, green papaya and mangoes, fenugreek greens, mustard leaves, same and gwar phalli, tinda, mooli,custard apples, potol, bitter gourds, lychees, coconut, guavas, cheeko, raw sugar cane. The list is endless.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Sameen Rushdie's Indian Cookery"
Copyright © 1988 Sameen Rushdie.
Excerpted by permission of Picador.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents
Foreword by Salman Rushdie,
Preface to the Picador Cookstr Classics Edition,
2. At Home in an Indian Kitchen,
The Value of Spices,
Kitchen Equipment and Cooking Utensils,
Planning an Indian Meal,
3. Lamb and Beef Dishes,
4. Vegetable Dishes,
5. Lentil Dishes (Daal),
6. Poultry and Game Dishes,
7. Fish and Prawn Dishes,
8. Rice Dishes and Bread,
9. Meethay (Sweet Things),
10. Relishes, Raitas and Chutneys,
About the Authors,