|La prima volta che ho assaggiato un curry veramente buono e` stato poco piu` di due anni fa, e me l’ha preparato Leo. Ricordo che si era preso un sacco di tempo per la spesa, la scelta dei numerosi ingredienti, e poi anche la realizzazione della ricetta aveva richiesto molto tempo, un pomeriggio intero per preparare un piatto solo. Ma alla fine il risultato era stato incredibile, carni tenere e succosa, spezie inebrianti ma armoniose. Ora lascio spazio a lui che racconta da dove prende origine questo piatto.
First time I ever saw a curry being made, it was in my own kitchen in the Wimbledon house residence. This was the best flatshare I’ve ever lived in (and I’ve seen a few) and marks the golden age of my independence, when I still lived like a bum, well let’s say a student, but finally on a decent wage, as I was one of the best paid Ph.D. students in London. The house was a large semi-detached near Wimbledon Park tube station. When I first entered, I started sharing with three other people: Fabrizio (known as The Fab Fab), Luis (known as Luis Camacho Borracho) and Stefan Hedvall (known as Stefan Hedvall), a swedish guy with a penchant for cuisine. I immediately took possession of the largest room in the house, preparing my future domination. The house was ruled according to a strict military discipline that spelt, the longest in service plays the tyrant. The rest tell him to go fuck himself. In those early days I had no particular duties save paying the TV licence; other poor sods were in charge of hefty bills such as the electricity and (ohmygod) the telephone. As people left (people never seem to stick to London for more than the length of a master or a Ph.D.) I took responsibility of more and more bills. By the end of my stay the rent had doubled, the new owner had added one more room, and from 3-4 people we’d gone to bloody six. A bathroom was also added, fortunately.
Fabrizio at work in the kitchen
The undersigned in his immense room at Wimbledon Park
Anyhow, we were always a bit like family, and liked to have communal meals on special occasions – some sunday lunches, Christmas, Easter, things like that. Stefan first roused my interest as a cook when he made us a splendid swedish Xmas meal sporting raw herring and roasted deer fillet (the deer was hunted down by a friend of his mother, apparently), all washed down with Vodka. By the end, I couldn’t even stand. Well, one day I stumbled into the kitchen as Stefan was throwing a lot of apparently random spices together in a wok, and cooking them all with a few huge prawns. Upon my questioning, he said this dish was a “kind of curry”, very easy to make, and he used it to “impress the chicks”; said, “just mention a lot of exotic sounding spices and they’ll be at your feet”. As I focused my attention away from the pot, I actually noticed a knockout of a girl being all flirtatious towards Stefan and looking at me like one looks at a small piece of dirt suddenly appearing out of nowhere for no particular reason other than to annoy the hell out of people. I might mention that last time I followed his advice I got me a pretty little blondie whose blog I’m currently squatting.
Convivial moment in the dining room (yes the ambience was furnished with terrible taste but the house was rented furnished, and we were just poor students). Luis Camacho Borracho is the big guy on the right.
I took down a few notes and then refined the recipe in the last five or six years. Nowadays the only invariant in the recipe is that I change it radically every time I make it – I mean I change the spices, the meat, everything – and it comes out tasting exactly the same. It’s an interesting experiment, that has a parallel with colours. You add too many of them together, you end up with white. This is why I usually wear green trousers, purple socks, beige shoes, pink shirt and grey jumper: so that people will tell me how nice I look in white. It hasn’t quite worked yet but I’m sure it’s just a question of perseverance. Meanwhile, I’ve attained the “white taste” with a beautiful curry-type dish enlisting no less than 27 ingredients. Some of the more fastidious amongst you might say, hey, why should I bother, just to get white taste? But I assure you, white taste is all the rage now. Ever tasted californian wine? It’s a kind of “catch-all” wine: a white taste. And it’s not all that bad. Anyhow, there is some satisfaction in serving this dish and challenging people to guess the spices in it. Bet some money, they won’t get them all. For the more purist indian tasters among you, this is more a korma (or a pasanda) than a curry. But the terminology is lost in the whiteness of this dish.
Another view of the kitchen, with the fabled Neil. He took Stefan Hedvall’s place when he left, and since I don’t have any picture of Stefan’s, I’m proposing you his substitute. Neil was known to run from Wimbledon Park to Imperial College every day with a 50 liter rucksack full of stones on his back. He ran marathons every other day and woke up at 5 so that he could swim from 6:30 to 8. You might think he was crazy, but in fact he was just Scottish. The ripped T-shirt was his usual attire (shortly after the picture was taken, Neil was hired as a lecturer at Imperial College).
Here goes – for 8 people. You need:
- 3 onions
- 1 clove of garlic
- 500g of cubed chicken breast
- 500g of cubed lamb meat
- fresh coriander
- bay leaves
- Madras curry powder
- “ordinary” curry powder (whatever that means)
- Curcuma ginger powder
- ordinary ginger powder
- cardamom seeds
- cumin seeds
- safron powder
- crushed/powdered chillies
- sunflower oil
- a finely chopped aubergine
- 600g of tomatoes
- 50g peeled fresh almonds
- 50g peeled fresh pistachio nuts
- 50g peeled fresh cashew nuts (Italian: anacardi)
- one glass of coconut milk
- half a coconut
- one tablespoon of honey
- fresh whipping cream
- full-fat greek yoghurt
You also need a blender to crush and liquefy things, and a large non-stick pan (I use a wok) to cook everything in. Chop the coriander and the garlic very finely. With the blender, liquefy the onions. Put some of the sunflower oil in the pan and fry the onions, garlic and half of the coriander (put the other half aside). Next, put all the meat and the (crushed) bay leaves in the pan and cook them with a high gas mark, stirring continuously, for at least 15 minutes. Add the salt to the meat. Next, add the chopped aubergine. Add oil if it is completely soaked up. Now, the spices. Add the curries, the gingers, the cardamom and cumin seeds and the chilli. Cut the tomatoes in chunks and put them in the pan. Stir and cook with a lower gas mark for a while. With the blender, make a mixture of almond, pistachio and cashew powder, and put it in the pan. Do the same with the coconut and add it with the coconut milk. From now on, when the dish becomes too dry, add a bit of milk and cream. Keep cooking and stirring with a low gas mark. Add the safron, stir, and then the yoghurt and honey. Stir and cook without allowing to reach boiling point. Prepare the basmati rice (with cumin seed) as a side dish in the meanwhile. Right before serving, add the rest of the coriander. To give you an idea, last time I made it, the blasted thing cooked for two hours altogether. You can also make it with king prawns (but cook them a lot less!) or just vegetables (peppers, aubergines, courgettes, more tomatoes).
You can complement this dish with a starter (a sauce) made with: 1/3 greek yoghurt, 1/3 cream, 1/3 milk all whipped together; a lot of chopped coriander; some Madras curry, some chopped garlic, liquefied onion and cumin seeds. The proper bread to use is called “papadum” (it’s also spelled “poppadom” sometimes).
Warning: to a truly indian person, these animals sound like blasphemy. These are “indian style” rather than indian dishes.