Rick Stein is my kind of foodie – he travels the world getting very enthusiastic about delicious food and great experiences. I adored his latest TV series where he went around India for three months in search of the perfect curry. Over the course of several episodes he explored the regional variations, trying to get an understanding of what Indians see as the quintessential dish. Using authentic ingredients and techniques he’s captured his findings in a wonderful new book – Rick Stein’s India.
The book itself is very extensive, covering everything from street food to that rarest of dishes – an Indian dessert. Every dish has a thoughtful introduction, explaining the background of the recipe. The ingredients are easy to find in any indian supermarket, but if you don’t have one of those on your doorstep you might struggle! As in all things – the internet is your friend and several popular online spice merchants even have Rick Stein sections now. In order to give the book a proper workout, I tackled four dishes simultaneously inside two hours.
One of my favourite things about Indian food is the variety of breads – I’ve tried making naan in the past and ended up with an inedible rock hard dough. Rick’s recipe is relatively straightforward, though the dough ends up very loose – I used my Kenwood to knead it, but you’d definitely struggle to manage it by hand. Once left to rise you simply bake it in a dry frying pan, letting it singe slightly on each side to give it the appropriate smokey note. It took a couple of attempts to get the thickness right, but the end result was delicious.
The quality of vegetarian food was one of the key revelations of my own trip to India. I ate some stunning lentil dishes and I was really keen to give this a shot. It’s very easy to do, with the tarka (a fried garnish that’s drizzled on at the end) being the only challenge. Do be careful not to overcook the lentils – I followed the timings carefully and was only just safe. I really liked the final dish, it had a lovely earth tang.
Potatoes, cauliflower and spice – what’s not to like? Another relatively easy dish – this worked really well. I really like chilli, but the amount the recipe suggested was almost too much for me, if you don’t like your meal breaking you out in a sweat i’d halve the amount of chillis and chilli powder.
I didn’t have the strength to tackle the more complicated biryani, so I settled for it’s simpler cousin. You make a fragrant stock and then poach the chicken thighs in it. Once cooked through you set them aside and briefly fry the raw rice before throwing everything back together and letting it gently cook. It was absolutely delicious – I’m not a big fan of tumeric so I might switch that for saffron in the future, but it was still really lovely.
Trying to define Indian cuisine is a pointless exercise – there’s endless regional variations and nuances. Rick Stein offers a way in here, a way to tap into that gorgeous medley of spice and texture. It’s the tip of a very wonderful iceberg. While it may not be that authentic, it’s an awful lot of fun. There are hundreds of recipes to try here and once you’ve got the basic ingredients (and a healthy batch of his excellent garam masala mixed up) you can manage most of the dishes with relative ease. The variety makes it excellent for a dinner party, especially if you need to cater for those awkward vegetarians. Break out the spices and get cooking!
Rick Stein’s India by Rick Stein, RRP £25, is published by BBC Books and is available from all good booksellers.