Koftas Curry and Potato Tamarind Raita for Cook the Books Club

 For our current Cook the Books Club selection we had a delightful pick, Climbing the Mango Trees, Memoir of a Childhood in India, by renowned cookbook author, Madhur Jaffrey.  I must say, if asked to pick among all the cuisines of the world, my very favorite would have to be the varied and complex cooking of India.  And, in addition to reminiscences of her growing up years, Madhur Jaffrey has kindly included a number of her favorite family recipes.

Her account gives us glimpses into important historic events of her time, such as the Colonial years, the fight for independence, war years, and the assassination of Ghandi, as seen through the eyes of a young girl born into an affluent Delhi family.  What more could you want in a good book?  Recipes, family drama in a far off place, written in an entertaining style, with a bit of colorful history thrown in for good measure.

Some of my very best travel experiences involved Indian cooking, in Indonesia and Singapore especially, where I remember some awesome vegetarian curries served on banana leaves.  I wanted to do that.

Though, often I feel somewhat at a disadvantage whenever even considering cooking Indian food.  I would love to go to an intensive cooking school, perhaps run by Jaffrey?  That is one of the disadvantages of living out in the middle of the Pacific Ocean.  You can't pop across town to attend  classes offered by a famous chef. It is just not happening here.  I had a good friend, Devi, who has long since moved to California.  The best cook ever, I remember wonderful meals in her home. She taught a class once at our Community College.  One day only.  One dish.  Oh well.

So, not knowing where to begin for inspiration from the book, (I'd like to try everything) I figured a good choice  might be one of Jaffrey's family favorites,  Meatballs (Koftas) in Curry, for which she includes her recipe on page 250, and a Potato Raita.  With perhaps cucumber and shredded greens in yogurt as a side dish, along the lines of a traditional Sunday family meal she recalls on page 196.

The meatball curry turned out to be a good illustration of the one disadvantage of even great cookbooks, and learning by doing. Some things you can pick up by watching, which just don't communicate in a recipe.  Jaffrey's Meatball Curry instructions, as an example:
"When all the yogurt (4 tablespoons) has been added (to the spice mixture) this way, pour in 2 cups water and the salt.  Stir to mix.  Slide in the meatballs, making sure they lie in a single layer, and bring to a simmer.  Cover and simmer gently for 50-60 minutes..."

Now, doing that as prescribed, makes for a very runny curry.  Perhaps it is supposed to be.  Who knows?  The chef was not there to question. The taste was fantastic and full of spicy flavors, but next time I will know to adjust for what is perhaps a Western liking for more thickened sauces.  Also, frying the onions and spices, as instructed on medium-high heat, for about 8 minutes, did not cause them to be "reddish brown."  Possibly my heat was not high enough.
On the other hand, she gives a terrific idea for pureeing  tomatoes, by grating them, using the coarse holes of a box grater, so the skin is left behind.  That worked just fine.  I have now added a new technique to my cooking skills.

For the Potato Raita, I tried a recipe from an old, and I do mean ancient, falling-apart cookbook of mine, Cooking the Indian Way, by Atia Hosain and Sita Pasricha.  It is quite simple.

Tamarind and Potato Raita

1 lb. potatoes
4oz. tamarind
sugar and salt to taste
1 teaspoon chili powder
1 teaspoon garam masala
2 green chillies (optional)

Boil potatoes, cool, peel and dice.  soak the tamarind in 1/2 pint warm water for 30 minutes.  Squeeze out all the pulp and strain the tamarind.  Add sugar, salt and chili powder to the juice.  Mix in the potatoes.  Taste to see if any more sugar or salt is required.  Put in a dish, sprinkle with garam masala and chopped green chillies.  You will notice that I used red chillies, as that is what was available.  They are mild, sweet ones.  This dish makes a tangy, sweet adjunct to the spicy meatballs and crisp green and white salad.

I didn't get a decent shot of the salad.  But, what I did was to (have my granddaughter) shred tatsoi, and dice cucumber into a bowl containing a mixture of about 4 tablespoons yogurt, 2 tablespoons lemon juice, a dash of salt and cumin.  She did her job well, assisted by my niece, Bridget.

Check out the round-up after the 24th (which is the deadline) at our Cook the Books Club site.  There should be some fantastic recipes inspired by a great read, Climbing the Mango Trees, by Madhur Jaffrey.


Rachel said...

What a luscious dinner. So many flavors! I'm glad you enjoyed the book. I learned so much geography and history from this memoir and thought Deb picked a great book for us at Cook the Books.

Deb in Hawaii said...

So glad you enjoyed the book. Indian food is my favorite as well. The meatballs and curry sauce and the raita all look and sound delicious! A perfect meal in my book. ;-)

Kelly said...

Those meatballs look scrumptious. I was glad to learn the tomato grating technique as well.

Anonymous said...

This is a very pretty presentation! The meatballs are so appealing! The potato dish sounds rather different, but that's what is so fun about this! I see I need to sneak off to an Indian restaurant and sample some food!

Alicia Foodycat said...

What a delicious meal! I think the consistency of the sauce is probably right. I have another curry cookbook that talks about how thin the gravies are to Western tastes, particularly in areas where they eat a lot of bread to sop up the juices.

Claudia said...

CBWA - Thanks, though I think the restaurant experience is the easiest, if you can find a good one where you live. Indian food is not the easiest.
Foodycat - At least it is easy to adjust once you know what's going on.

Heather S-G said...

Pureeing tomatoes was one of my favorite things from the book...strange, I know. This sounds fabulous! Great pick =)

Simona Carini said...

A very nice meal. I have never tasted tamarind, so I am particularly curious about the potatoes.

Claudia said...

Simonea - The tamarind gave the potatoes a tangy, sort of sweet-sour flavor. I usually have it on hand, but haven't used it a whole lot.

Foodjunkie said...

This way of grating tomatoes is soooo Greek! It is so common I never think to mention it in my recipes :-) . I think it is very often the case with cooking recipes (less so with baking) that the times given by the food writer do not correspond to the times you'll get in your house. I never pay any attention to that, and just cook food till "it feels right".

Ann said...

Wow, your koftas curry looks delectable, I'm glad it worked out OK for you. I do agree with your gut feeling that it may have been a tad thin in consistency, unfotunately us home cooks have to learn from our own experiences and adjust "master" recipes in cook books to suit our taste. I've typically taken to cooking down or reducing sauces before adding meat in so that I get a thicker gravy or sauce. Great review and great selection of recipes!