by Tom Finkel
Author and cooking instructor Raghavan Iyer takes an appetizingly broad view of curry, describing it as "any dish that consists of either meat, fish, poultry, legumes, vegetables or fruits, simmered in or covered with a sauce, gravy or other liquid that is redolent with any number of freshly ground and very fragrant spices and/or herbs."
Iyer, who has been cooking professionally since 1987, says curry has spawned widespread confusion because people tend to confuse the dish with curry powder, a mix of ground spices that evolved from the British, who tried to capture the flavors of Indian cooking and marketed the powder to the world. "Curry powders as a concept are not in existence in any self-respecting Indian kitchen," Iyer says, adding that the word "curry" itself is not spoken in India, although there are words that sound similar. What it comes down to, he says, is that if there is no sauce in a dish, it is not a curry. "We use more words to describe a flavor or the sauce as opposed to using the word 'curry' itself. Curry is never added, it just is."
Iyer has written two other cookbooks, Betty Crocker's Indian Home Cooking and The Turmeric Trail: Recipes and Memories from an Indian Childhood, the latter of which was a 2003 James Beard Awards finalist for best international cookbook. "I'd seen books done on curries, but they never did a fabulous job of explaining curry," Iyer notes. "I thought it would be fun to do a project that unravels the Indian curry."
The event, sponsored by the St. Louis Culinary Society, costs $15 per person. Attendees can register on Kitchen Conservatory's website, www.kitchenconservatory.com.
In the meantime, here's a recipe from Iyer's curry book:
Sweet, tart, and hot, this accompaniment from Monica Kataky's kitchen rounded out the fish curry called maasor tenga and the white rice she served at dinner. The guests at the table voted it a hands-down winner, the empty bowl a testimony to that conviction. The chutney takes center stage beautifully when served atop a piece of grilled wild salmon.
2 tablespoons canola oil 1 teaspoon black or yellow mustard seeds 2 cups cubed fresh pineapple (1/2-inch cubes) 1/2 cup golden raisins 6 to 8 dried red Thai or cayenne chiles, to taste, stems removed 1/2 cup crumbled (or chopped) jaggery or firmly packed dark brown sugar 1/4 teaspoon coarse kosher or sea salt
1. Heat the oil in a small saucepan over medium-high heat. Add the mustard seeds, cover the pan, and cook until the seeds have stopped popping (not unlike popcorn), about 30 seconds. Add the pineapple, raisins, and chiles. Reduce the heat to medium and cook, uncovered, stirring occasionally, until the raisins are plump and the pineapple is lightly browned, 5 to 8 minutes.
2. Add the jaggery and cook, stirring so it melts, 2 to 4 minutes.
3. Pour in 1 cup water, and sprinkle in the salt. Cook, uncovered, stirring occasionally, until the sauce turns syrupy-thick, 10 to 15 minutes.
4. Serve immediately, or cover and refrigerate for up to 1 week. Reheat to warm it before serving.
Tip: For an unusual presentation, ladle a tablespoon of this potent fruit over two scoops of your favorite premium vanilla ice cream.