Learning to Cook. Again.


Do you love Indian and southeast Asian food but are kinda intimidated by trying to cook with ingredients and produce that are new and unfamiliar? Do all those spices and lack of confidence in what to DO with them make you break out in hives?

I’m a pretty decent cook, and not a lot intimidates me— I love love LOVE subcontinental Indian food. Determined to try it at home, I burnt through two or three cookbooks trying to learn the spices, techniques and ingredients to make anything even remotely close to what my local joint easily churned out in a lunch buffet. It was disaster after abject disaster. For a few years I gave up. Then I found this book, and my life changed. It’s more than a cookbook- it’s an encyclopedia of sorts, a culinary history of India, with small side-trips into other close cuisines in Asia.

Raghavan Iyer is a native Indian who learned to cook at his mother’s stove, and who then became a chemist. He knows food, both from an emotional standpoint and from a food-chemistry standpoint. The first part of the book is a primer on Indian food- explanations of flavors, spices and how to tease out the different and complex flavors so distinct and necessary to good Indian cuisine. He gives simple, step by step instructions on becoming familiar with spices not necessarily found in American cabinets, and ways to entice out new levels of taste in the ones we do know well.

By the way ‘curry’ is an anglicized word, and isn’t found anywhere in any Indian dialect. And ‘curry powder”, that yellowish spice jar you might have stashed in the back of your cupboard? Yeah, also doesn’t exist in India. It’s something the Colonizers invented in trying replicate flavors from the subcontinent when they returned to the Isles. It’s basically akin to having a jar labeled “sauce” for American seasoning.

Now if you want to learn how to toast, fry and roast ten different flavors from one spice, and how to combine those spices into something magical and nearly alchemical, this is your cookbook. Garam Masala, balchao masala, ghee, garlic chili paste… all the building blocks that once seemed so mysterious, are here. You can (and should) toss out that old, stale jar of “curry” and learn how to make your own. It’s marvelous, and nothing— nothing!— compares to it! There are also chapters on making Indian breads and dosa, yogurts, and even making cheese- which if y’all have been reading for any time, you know I already make. You should too! It’s easy and fun and the kids love it.

660 Curries, by Raghavan Iyer. Get this cookbook. Make cheese. Fall in love with spices!