Angela Clutton reflects on the latest gathering of the Cookbook Club, which this month focused on Curry Easy Vegetarian by Madhur Jaffrey
“The simple acts of cutting, chopping and stirring are graces that can bring you peace and calm.”
Those are the words with which Madhur Jaffrey closes the introduction to her book, Curry Easy Vegetarian, and I think many of us who love to cook will understand what she is saying. From talking with Borough Market Cookbook Club members over the now 20-odd events we’ve done since the club started, I know it is a sentiment many members share. Cooking can bring peace and calm, yes—it can bring pleasure, but first and foremost it must be sustaining and maybe the judgement of any cookbook is how well it delivers on all those fronts.
If that is so, then Curry Easy Vegetarian is a triumph. It was our first book of Indian cookery for the Club and inevitably, therefore, had to be a book by the cook who has played a more vital role than any other in reinventing Indian cookery for modern British times. To say that her 1980s cookbooks and BBC series on Indian cookery had a huge impact on how we as a nation cook and eat Indian food may not sound all that modern, but they are when you realise she set the scene for the likes of Meera Sodha, Anjum Anand and many others, to come through.
Curry Easy Vegetarian is one of Madhur’s most recent books and feels as fresh as newly-ground spices. It covers so much more than curries—from soups and dals, to rice and breads, chutneys and salads, drinks and desserts. The recipes come with an introduction to the context of their region or the family that inspired the dish, written in Madhur’s typically lyrical style.
At the end of the Cookbook Club event I asked the members there what I should report back as being the stand-out dishes. The answer of “everything” wasn’t just diplomacy, it was totally meant (with one small exception of a vegetable dish whose cook was a little sad about how that had gone, but still the answer from the others was “everything”, so maybe it wasn’t too disappointing after all).
Special mention goes to Nepalese ‘pickled’ potatoes which are not pickled in the conventional sense, but a salad of waxy potatoes dressed with tahini and spices. Also paneer in butter tomato sauce, and chana dal with spinach and tomato that enacted a dal-conversion for its cook and was a smash hit for all.
I made chapatis, among other things. It was my first time doing those and I did them in front of the group, willing to bear any disasters for the sake of camaraderie and transparency. Rather marvellously it turned out that while I was a chapatti newbie, quite a few of the members in the room had chapati experience. My chapatis were made to the across-the-stove support and encouragement of the members, and summed up just why the Borough Market Cookbook Club is so very special.
Tuesday 17th April: A Platter of Figs and Other Recipes by David Tanis
For details on how to join the Cookbook Club, go here.