When I lived in Falmouth, Cornwall, Rick Stein had just opened his fish and chip shop. The first time I went in there, they’d had a bit of an unexpected rush so there was quite a wait – I believe all the fish is cooked to order, rather than sitting in a heated cabinet and overcooking. As a result, a rather cantankerous Cornish lady made her feelings known that she wouldn’t be coming back for a second time. All this drama made the waiting a little easier to manage and the chips, twice-fried in beef dripping, were very good. Much better than the fish and chips however, was the small tapas restaurant upstairs that has now sadly closed, replaced by a private dining room and more diversified menu in the restaurant downstairs. I’m curious as to whether, with the release of his India TV series last summer, there was any change in the menu (as the influence from his “Spain” series was obvious).
Friday night has always been curry night in our family, so I was eager to pick up Rick Stein’s India after the TV series. I’ve been cooking from it for about a year now (with a short interlude while I lent my mum the book, before buying her own copy) and it hasn’t disappointed. I’ve found that his previous two books were a little lacking: the Spain book I felt was a little unexciting, whilst Far Eastern Odyssey was too hard to follow in many places, as recipes for spice pastes were separated at the back of the book. In either case, the recipes I’ve cooked from them have been reliable – I’ve made the mango and prawn stir fry from the later countless times — but have fallen short of being books I come back to again and again, at times when I just want something to eat, and when I want to make something special.
India, however, has kept me coming back for more. The simpler bean and chick pea curries have become staple dishes when I’m needing a store-cupboard supper, using just the most common spices of cumin, turmeric and coriander, a little tomato and tinned pulses. Other dishes require little more effort than simply piling everything into a pan and leaving to simmer. There are more complex biryanis and pastry-wrapped street snacks too, for when you’re feeling more confident. Every recipe though, is simple to follow and I’ve yet to find a dud. In fact, the most challenging part of preparing most dishes is usually the shopping.
As a self-confessed hoarder of strange ingredients and exotic spices, any excuse to hunt down something more esoteric is always welcome. The vast majority of recipes don’t require more than what you’ll find in a well stocked supermarket, and any shop catering to Indian or Middle Eastern buyers will have the rest (and will invariably be dramatically cheaper too, especially for large packs of the more common spices like cumin, turmeric and mustard seeds). Helpfully, online stockists are also recommended in the book – I’m usually very hesitant about buying things from unfamiliar retailers over the internet, so it’s a big help to include them.
Accessibility and reliability aside however, what makes Rick Stein’s India a good book is that the food is delicious. Spicing is generous, but dishes never overpower with heat. And each curry has a unique flavour that reflects its origins, whether they are in the Himalayas, Bengal or the tropical South, meaning even after using it regularly for almost a year, I’m still not bored of it.
I’ve been intending to write this review for a few months now, but whenever I sit down to do it, leafing through the pages, I’ll be too inspired to cook from it again, “just to test another recipe out.” But perhaps I’m biased after 22 years of weekly curry nights, and a bit less time admiring the author on TV. Or perhaps, to paraphrase Rick Stein in the TV series, it’s simply that once your appetite is set on a curry, nothing else with sate your hunger.