Reviewed by Antonella Townsend
The answer to the old clichéd question ‘if there was a fire what would you grab before fleeing the house?’ has recently been up-dated in my head. Beyond bundling the dog out the nearest door, I would now ignore the family photo album and grab Peter Kuruvita’s latest book Lands of the Curry Leaf. Oh my, what a wonderful book – on so many levels this book is a delight.
Lands of the Curry Leaf is beautifully presented, with great photography, and it is entertaining. It tells a brief personal history of Peter Kuruvita’s family and their overland journey in an Austin minibus from London to Sri Lanka, followed by his later adventures in, and detailing flavours of: Afghanistan, Nepal, Bangladesh, Bhutan, and Pakistan. A comprehensive list of the sub continental pantry follows, including how to cook with spices – tempering to release essential oils, and even how to get the best from cookware in the section ‘Curing Pans’. After reading chapters on whole spices and dried spices and spice blends, confidence levels start to rise; knowledge becomes delicious power!
Peter presents the dishes in chapter headings: Street Food, Pulses and Legumes, Salads (who knew) Dairy, Curries, Stir-fries and Stews, Rice, Breads, Soups, Chutneys, Relishes, Pickles and Ferments, Sauces, Sweets and Desserts, and Drinks. Along with a few personal comments, each recipe is presented with its geographical history, serving size and the time taken to make, including the degree of difficulty – most are ‘easy’ or occasionally ‘medium’. There are recipes for the chutneys or relishes that should accompany the dishes. The food is vibrant so echoing the communities from which they hail.
While I will be travelling through Lands of the Curry Leaf for a long time to come, I have already had a few successful visits to culinary India, Afghanistan and Pakistan. Gathering a couple of friends for their honest opinion, I started my Kuruvita subcontinent experience in Chapter 1, Street Food. An Indian recipe – Aloo Chop – Stuffed Potato Dumplings (page 32) received accolades, which was just as well as it was a bit fiddly, but can be prepared ahead of time. Very satisfying! Pakora, from Pakistan, Bangladesh and Nepal, are vegetable and chickpea flour fritters, easy to make and fun to eat with an interesting yogurt dipping sauce from Afghanistan. An Afghan recipe (Dairy Chapter 4) Kimish panare, cheese with raisins, olives and grapes, is an unusual sweet/savoury dish. I used cottage cheese but next time will use the paneer (fresh cheese) recipe on page 94. Keerai sadam – spinach rice – was also a big lunchtime hit. A meal in itself, with rice, spinach, chilli, lentils and a wide array of spices, topped with macadamias. My next foray will be into Sweets and Desserts, Chapter 12. Who could resist Sheer pira – Afghan rosewater milk fudge (page 261) or Kulfi – cardamom ice block (page 268) from Pakistan?
Browsing through Lands of the Curry Leaf it becomes clear that it will take a while to sample all the great dishes but there is good reason to do so. Apart from the wonderful colours and flavours, there is a plethora of health benefits to be gained from subcontinent spices. A few examples: turmeric, commonly used in many recipes, is used as treatment from arthritis to skin inflammation, infected wounds, and ringworm. Cardamom helps with digestive problems and preliminary studies are exploring its cancer fighting effects, while research by the Mayo Clinic is investigating possible regulation of type 2 diabetes using cinnamon.
Peter Kuruvita is, of course, an acclaimed chef, author and television presenter. He wrote this book to show that meat does not have to be the main event, ‘vegetables and grains and pulses can shine’; in this wonderful book, they are positively radiant. And so could we be, should we eat more of them!
(Sri Lankan greeting carrying the meaning of long life)
By Peter Kuruvita
Hardback – ISBN: 978-1743365113
$49.99; 295 pp