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Tasting India

Categories: News and previews

Roopa Gulati will be in the Demo Kitchen each Thursday of September, taking us on a taste tour of India in an in depth exploration of regional cuisine. She gives us a preview of what she has up her culinary sleeve

Image: Regula Ysewijn

From India’s rugged Himalayan slopes to its scorched desert plains, palm-fringed coastlines and teeming cities—the diversity of landscapes are matched only by the variety of its regional cooking styles. No other country has as many interpretations of everyday staples.

Travel to the southern states and you’ll find lentils sharpened with tamarind and cracking curry leaves, while in the west the same pulse may be sweetened with sugar. Punjabis like their yellow lentils spiked with fried onions, ginger and garlic, and in contrast, Bengalis are partial to mustardy notes. No other food says as much about identity and cultural belonging than the way we season the ubiquitous lentil.

Britain has made much of its 200-year love affair with all things spice. Until the early 1980s, ‘going out for an Indian’ usually meant ordering the likes of Punjabi-inspired meaty grills and curries. But in many restaurants today, we’re as likely to order a Keralan fish curry as we are an authentic korma or kebab. And, we’re realising that replicating classic dishes at home doesn’t have to be a grind—London welcomes everyone to the Indian party.

Annual 360-mile round trip
I grew up in Cumbria and during the 1970s there wasn’t much call for Asian ingredients in Carlisle’s city centre. No matter; mum’s cooking made good use of local Herdwick lamb and vegetables from the market gardener. For major buys such as chapati flour, fragrant mangoes, basmati rice and tins of pickle, we’d make an annual 360-mile trip to Southall in London. 

How times change. Walk around Borough Market today and you can pretty much buy ingredients for most of the world’s cuisines. Scoop up fresh turmeric, sticky tamarind pods and bunches of leafy coriander from Paul Wheeler Fresh Supplies. Then there’s Hook and Son for creamy yoghurt and buttery ghee.

To season your cooking, check out Spice Mountain for punchy dried fenugreek leaves and tart mango powder. I’ll be using Gourmet Goat’s kid meat for one of my cookery masterclasses, so if you’ve never tried it, now is your chance.

Fire up the stove
Throughout September, on Thursdays from 12:30-2pm, I’ll be hosting demonstrations at Borough Market, focusing on cooking styles from five regions. We’ll taste north Indian tandoori chicken cloaked in tomato masala and I’ll fire up the stove for a Keralan seafood curry. I’ll also introduce you to sweet-sour Gujarati masalas, tastefully contrasted with pungent Bengali mustard seed seasoning.

I’ve gleaned some of my most treasured recipes from Rajasthan—despite the desert and sometimes limited resource, the creativity of home cooks is impressive. Star-billing goes to a slow-cooked goat masala, which has 250g green chillies for 500g meat in its ingredient listing. (But I do promise that it won’t blow your head off.) 

I look forward to sharing my story, recipes, culinary techniques and tasting sessions with you.

Join Roopa for tips, tastings and recipes every Thursday in September in the Market Hall, 12:30-2pm