Simply Complex Curry
Curry days are never hurried days. I start early in the morning, checking my store of spices for freshness, in itself a pleasurable chore. As I open up my jars and containers, scooping up a handful of cardamom pods, a pinch of fenugreek, some coriander and cumin seeds, the scents surround and envelop me. I prepare my dry ingredients first, mixing the spices in proportion, grinding them with a mortar and pestle. I will use ready ground chilli powder, turmeric and cayenne or paprika, and extract from my carefully hoarded store a dried cinnamon stick, cloves and star anise. Garlic, shallots and ginger are always ground fresh and if I'm lucky enough to have found some fresh chile peppers the day before, I will use some of those too.
I find cooking very therapeutic and I love making dishes from scratch, feeling the ingredients beneath my fingers, the freshness of food under my hands, coming together, disintegrating to form new shapes, new textures, the sensations between my lips, and on my tongue as I lick, bite, sample, swallow. The sense of touch, of smell and of taste is highly enhanced and it reconnects me with the earth and with nature in a very fundamental way.
Having sautéd the spices until fragrant, I sear the cubes of boneless beef quickly in the almost-dry paste, coating each chunky morsel evenly before adding the stock, and putting a heavy lid on the pot to let the concoction simmer for a few hours. Before long, the smells coming from the kitchen could almost convince you that you were wandering down the streets of Zanzibar, an old Delhi market or a meandering neighbourhood in rustic Malacca. An hour before the dish is done, I add some young potatoes and season to taste. To thicken, I will add coconut milk, yogurt or even evaporated milk on occasion, depending on the consistency and piquancy I am striving for.
I usually prepare a batch of piping hot basmati rice or oven-baked naan (Indian flat bread which I confess I generally buy frozen) to accompany the curry. Although not traditional, a South Australian Shiraz does complement the flavours nicely - the meat is achingly tender and melts on contact with the tongue, the potatoes flake at the touch of a fork, the sauce is a molten river of scarlet and gold, tantalizing in its complexity. It fills the body with heat, quickening the pulse, before leaving a lethargic warmth behind. An experience to remember but surely nothing to compare to Anthony Burgess who had one so sublime that he declared, "This curry was like a performance of Beethoven's Ninth Symphony that I'd once heard.....especially the last movement, with everything screaming and banging 'Joy.' It stunned, it made one fear great art. My father could say nothing after the meal."