Chronicle of Curry

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The cuisine we believe to be quintessentially Indian is actually a fusion of many foreign contributions. In her new book, Curry: A Tale of Cooks and Conquerors, Lizzie Collingham traces that fusion, going back as far as 15th century Persian Moghuls, 17th century Portuguese explorers and the lengthy occupation by the British.  She discusses curry's full spectrum -- from its lofty symbolism representing India's history of invasion and colonization, to specific delicacies like roast black rat from the kitchens of King Somesvara III.

Serves 3-4

2-4 breasts of duck (or 1 ½ lb. stewing pork), cubed

2 large dried red chillies
1 teaspoon cumin seeds
1 teaspoon poppy seeds
4-6 whole cloves
10 black peppercorns
½ teaspoon turmeric
2 fresh red chillies, finely chopped (or pureed in a blender with a little water)
1 tablespoon palm or wine vinegar
1 tablespoon tamarind paste
6 large cloves of garlic, mashed
¾ in. piece of fresh ginger, peeled and finely grated

In a cast-iron pan, dry roast the dried chillies, cumin seeds, poppy seeds, cloves, peppercorns and turmeric for 1-2 minutes.  Grind these spices into a fine powder in a coffee grinder.  Put in a bowl with the fresh red chillies, wine vinegar, tamarind, ginger, and garlic and mix to a paste.

Add the meat and mix again.  Make sure all the pieces of duck (or pork) are coated in the marinade.  Cover and leave in the fridge overnight.

4-6 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 teaspoon black mustard seeds
¾ in. cinnamon stick
1 large onion, finely chopped
1 ¼ cups water
salt to taste
pinch of jaggery (palm sugar) or soft brown sugar
a few curry leaves, crumbled

The next day, heat the oil in a large pan and when hot add the mustard seeds and cinnamon stick.

When the mustard seeds begin to pop, add the onions and fry over a medium heat until they begin to brown.   Add the meat and its marinade and sauté until all the pieces are browned.  Add the water, and a pinch of salt to taste.  Cover, turn down the heat, and simmer for about 10 minutes (if duck, longer if pork).

Remove the lid, keep the heat very low and simmer gently until the meat is tender (about half an hour with duck, an hour with pork) and the sauce is thick (you may need to add a little more water to prevent burning).

When the meat is tender add the jaggery or sugar, the crumbled curry leaves and simmer for another 3 minutes.  Then serve.

Recipe courtesy of Curry:  A Tale of Cooks & Conquerors by Lizzie Collingham

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