Guided Curry Tour

K Street: I love curries but am a bit intimidated by all of the spices. In an attempt to overcome this, I've talked some friends into joining me for a "curry day" and having a do-it-yourself cooking class. We want to get the relevant spices, toast and grind them -- we are planning to make 3-4 dishes, if possible, and then we'll sit down and eat when all is over. My question is whether you can suggest a good source for recipes that will go over how to handle the spices, etc. I saw that you referenced a new curry cookbook in your blog recently, so thought that might be an option. Ideas?

As I mentioned in this week’s chat, I love this idea. In fact, it’s got me thinking about the possibility of doing a “Curry Week” in this space this fall, announced in advance so that readers could organize their own curry clubs, do the spice shopping and share their first-hand kitchen reports during “Curry Week.” Every day, I could offer a different recipe….hmmm. But I digress.

You were asking about spice resources to guide you along your curried journey. I’m going to assume you’re interested in curry that includes India and Pakistan but also goes beyond those culinary borders. Diversity might be the coolest thing about curry; it shows up in kitchens around the world, including Malaysia, Japan, South Africa and Trinidad, to name a few. After all, variety is the spice of life, and what’s a curry without spice?

But back to those resources. Like curry, there are so many curry cookbooks to choose from. Here are a few personal favorites, plus a few more from Washington area food writer Monica Bhide.

Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore are the focus of James Oseland's “Cradle of Flavor,” which, although only two years old, has proven its spiced mettle on countless occasions. As part of his “At Market: Ingredients” chapter, there’s a terrific photo gallery with plenty of spice representation, and his descriptive backgrounders are both useful and informative.

Covering even more territory, by way of the Indian Ocean, is “Where Flavor Was Born” by Andreas Viestad (who's also a Post food section contributor). Here, chapters are organized by spice (plus one just for curries), which gives the reader a great understanding of how various spices are applied in different cuisines. I love the intro, which includes thoughtful tutorials on 20 spices. Last fall in this space, I wrote about his chocolate black pepper cookies, which were a big hit at the holidays.

I like a little bit of history with my cookbooks, which is why I really enjoy Madhur Jaffrey’s “From Curries to Kebabs.” In her introductory notes, she asks: “What exactly makes up a curry meal? And when did it all start?”

You’ll learn, for example, how certain dishes traveled from India to South Africa and the far eastern Caribbean and the many ways to cook a korma. A helpful reference list is located in the back of the book, but I wouldn’t consider it a spice guide, per se.

Monica Bhide has high praises for this trio:

* “The Curry Book” by Nancie McDermott

* Mridula Baljekar’s "South-East Asian Curry Cookbook: Over 50 deliciously fresh and fragrant curries from Thailand, Burma, Vietnam, Indonesia, Malaysia and the Philippines”

* 50 Great Curries by Camellia Punjabi

Bhide has a few titles under her own belt, including “The Everything Indian Book” and the forthcoming “Modern Spice,” scheduled for release by Simon & Schuster in 2009.

Your turn. Weigh in and add to the list.

By Kim ODonnel |  September 19, 2008; 7:00 AM ET Cook's Library , Spice Rack
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Hi Kim - What a fun post! I am just getting ready to review two more books that sound like they maybe a perfect fit for this post -

The Bali Cookbook, by Lonny Gerungan (Kyle Books, October 2008) – first Bali cookbook in English written by a Bali-born chef

The Big Book of Thai Curries by Vatcharin Bhumichitr (Kyle Books, September 2008) – a primer on everything you wanted to know about Thai curries

Now.. I am hungry!!

Posted by: Monica Bhide | September 19, 2008 10:48 AM

I would love to learn more about curries, sounds delightful!

Posted by: Anonymous | September 19, 2008 12:05 PM

Kim, this sounds like fun and I think that I could gather a friend or two to make a few dishes together just like the poster mentioned.

But - what are the basic ingredients to have on hand, spice wise? I don't know the first thing about curries and would need time to gather ingredients... thanks! sounds fab!

Posted by: Centre of Nowhere | September 19, 2008 2:55 PM

Kim, Thanks so much for answering my question from Tuesday (and anticipating that we want curries from ALL regions). My friends and I are very excited and are planning to get together sometime in October to do this. I'll let you know how it goes!

Posted by: K Street | September 19, 2008 3:29 PM

i've always been a little scared of curries...i know some of them have coconut milk in them (the thai ones?), and i can't stand coconut, so i tend not to order them at restaurants. i have had a lamb curry at an indian buffet place, and that was pretty good...but i don't think i have any friends that would be interested in a curry night to try these. still, i might give one or two of them a go! :)

Posted by: daetara | September 19, 2008 4:04 PM

Mulligatawny soup is also good.

Posted by: Dave | September 21, 2008 3:30 PM

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