Sunday, December 5, 2010

J'aime bien le bibliotheque

I have a weakness for books in general, but cookbooks are my kryptonite. I try, though admittedly not particularly hard, to restrain myself, but fail repeatedly. It's a very happy sort of failure, I must hasten to add, one that results in some very contented downtime with the guilty purchase, a cup of coffee and lots of tabs to mark the pages of recipes I plan to try out. The Redundancy, however, put paid to many of my spending habits, and this was one of them. Feeling more than a little sorry for myself, I sought refuge in my local library, which brought a very satisfying compromise; the wealth of cookbooks on offer there is an absolute joy, and I find, as with regular books, the fact that I can borrow anything at all at a cost of absolutely nothing means that I am more likely to experiment a little and go for things that I wouldn't choose if I were buying from a bookshop. I disappear into the central library in the Ilac, and even if I have only popped in to return some books, I find myself drawn in and re-emerge an hour later with a heavy bag full of books to indulge in, guilt-free, at home. It reminds me of my weekly visit to the local library in Longford when I was small. It was always on a Monday after school, and it was without doubt the highlight of my nerdy little week. I remember, in particular, when new books would come in and if you were the first person to borrow it you felt as though you were the first person in the world ever to read this book.

And so it was with the Dorling Kindersley book Curry that I first borrowed from the library a couple of months ago and have renewed repeatedly online since.

My love of curry is up there with my love of the library. I'd eat it for three meals a day if I could. And if I weren't so very easily diverted by every other foodstuff that passes before my eyes throughout the day. I'm not much of a one for take-aways, though when my house was being renovated and I was kitchen-less I became a regular customer of Namaste , to the extent where the delivery guy used to stick his head in and give a commentary on my progress. Chicken vindaloo was my curry of choice - I love a good vindaloo, and a friend's Pakistani boyfriend was mightily impressed by my ability to handle a good hot curry when we were eating on Brick Lane in London once.

I started my adventures in curry-making with Jamie's Thai green curry from his first book. It's a zingy, citrusy curry, and I first gave it a try when I was going out with someone who said that his favourite food was curry. He said that he liked it but didn't find it very...curry-ish. He didn't last too long. The curry, however, became something of a staple, and I found it to be a reliable number if I had the time to get the ingredients and blitz up the paste. After that, it's pretty straightforward, and I've been meaning to make up a batch to have in the freezer ready to crack out when required, yet another of those culinary intentions of mine that hasn't quite materialised.

I've been branching out a bit with my curry repertoire, particularly since I try to keep a lot of meals meat-free and I find that Indian food is rich in vegetarian options - one that I return to again and again is this excellent chana masala recipe from the ever-delightful Smitten Kitchen. And so, while I have been tempted by menus through the front door and interesting-looking jars on shelves (a friend of mine swears by the Pataks range of sauces), I always end up doing my own thing.

When I got this book first, I was determined to try a new recipe every time, so the snowy weather had me pulling it off the shelf (I had to put Nigella back up there for a while, my reliance on her new book has become a little ridiculous) in a bid to stir up some inner heat. On Thursday night I went for the South Indian chicken korma. Ordinarily I wouldn't really go for korma, it's a little mild for my tastes, but I was intrigued by the cashew nut paste.

Ode to joy: spices on a pan.

Mmmm, spicy, oniony, tomatoey loveliness. What I really love about a good curry recipe is the presence of fresh juicy tomatoes and taking the emphasis away from all of that coconut milk that I, until fairly recently, used to believe was an essential ingredient in any decent curry.

Chicken gives me the heebie jeebies. It is a much-interfered with substance, and I get very anxious about undercooking it, which unfortunately can result in me overcooking it, which is not particularly lovely (I am very comforted by making kebabs for the BBQ with chicken marinated in lemon juice, as I believe that the raw chicken is actually partially cooked by the juice, thus reducing my risk of giving my guests food poisoning). I have heard horrible stories about TV programmes on what Tesco and KFC do to the poor wee chickens, so I am extremely careful about buying good quality Irish chicken, though this can on occasion be extortionate. I do love chicken in a curry though, and it lends itself well to all of that spicy saucy goodness.

The cashew nut paste was quite a success.

And this rather neatly sums up my response to Ireland's snowmageddon of November/December 2010: curry, fire, candles, Christmas cards.

Come Friday night I was hooked and in full-on hibernation mode. Like a little vegetable, I cancelled plans to go into town and I decided to tuck into season four of Mad Men, fully recorded and patiently awaiting my attention on the dvr, and another curry. This time I went for the special chicken curry from Pakistan (the book is divided into regions), Desi Murgh curry: "In the fifties and sixties, if you were invited to dinner and served this curry it would show that your hosts had spared no expense in your honour". Sure why wouldn't I spare any expense in my own honour. Though in fairness, the tomatoes, Greek yogurt and coriander didn't exactly break the bank. Things I love about making curry number seven bajillion: once you have a load of spices you are well stocked and ready to go, and you won't have to fork out for many additional ingredients.

Oh the fresh promise of a pan full of onions and a chopping board full of tomatoes and spices all lined up and ready to go.

My favourite kind of evolution, that of a dinner in the making.

Of all herbs, I think that the smell of freshly chopped coriander is the one that I like the best, perhaps because it contains the promise of a freshly-made curry.

And there is, of course, a lovely bowl of leftovers in the fridge, perfect for no-effort Sunday night comfort food.

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