Curry Queen Meera Sodha On Cooking, Career Women… And Missing Mum’s Grub

03 July 2014 by

The humble curry is the UK's best-loved dish and food writer Meera Sodha wants to keep it that way. Her new cookbook Made in India: Cooked in Britain is a new Grazia Daily favourite; all about easy, fresh and simple dishes – just like authentic Indian cuisine really is. Often however Indian food can have a complicated rep - many people will put off cooking it until the weekend because of the long list of ingredients, the time it takes to marinate the meat or the slow-cooking many dishes involve. Meera’s recipes couldn't be further from this. From Coconut Fish Curry (recipe below) to Oven Roasted Chicken Tikka her book features over 130 recipes that are perfect for the busy working girl (or boy).

Meera’s main goal is to show how simple Indian food can be to cook, but she also has another mission in life – to preserve her heritage. She fears that the traditional authentic curry could soon be a thing of the past as many Indian girls seem to be losing the art of home cooking. Typically, Indian recipes are passed down from mother to daughter, by word of mouth, and are not written down. However, this has changed dramatically in recent years. Here Meera argues that you can still be a career woman and a cook, and asks whether Indian families have a responsibility to pass down this tradition and knowledge.

‘I grew up in a home where food was the most important thing and the second most important was doing your homework. The kitchen was the cornerstone of our family: a byword for love, get-togethers, and tradition but an education was the future; ‘a key to a better life’ according to my mother. So I’d always be shunted upstairs to my bedroom after dinner to work on ‘extra-curricular’ exam papers rather than learning how to cook. In my mum’s eyes, having a professional job; becoming a doctor, accountant, lawyer or banker was tantamount to success. You could say that she was right, if I look at my Indian friends and cousins now, they all in their 30’s flying up career ladders, iPhone 5 in hand, Instagramming festivals and food and some are even buying houses (yes, even in this market). All markers of modern successful women: but none know how to make a home-cooked curry.

Does it matter? At the risk of sounding anti-feminist, or anti-progress, I think it does.

I ended up back in the family kitchen only by chance after a first week at university eating awful canteen food. Unable to sustain myself on pret sandwiches alone, I called mum. ‘What recipes darling, I’ve got nothing written down’. On hearing this I panicked, got back on the first train home and started feverishly collecting the family recipes fastidiously noting down everything she did and said. What I learned was more than I’d bargained for. I learned how to cook and feed myself properly but learning about food unlocked incredible old family stories too. I learned all about my eccentric grandfather who set up the first Coca Cola bottling factory in Kenya and was the Bear Grylls of his generation: he used to catch antelope and bake them overnight in the earth covered in spices. I learned what my parents ate in poverty: dal and food sneaked from other peoples Indian weddings in Wembley.

I hate to think all this and so much more could have been lost. It was education that was richer beyond any of the years I’d spent in school or at university. In the last decade, we women (Indian in particular) have made such swift a departure from generation housewife to generation career woman that I think we’re in danger of losing knowledge of our roots and culture. While there will always be a tension, between tradition and modernizing to succeed in the 21st century, I just hope that other women will take a train ride back home and ask the same questions of their mothers and grandmothers. It's amazing how many hidden anecdotes can be found in a bowl of curry.'

Meera Sodha’s Made in India: Cooked in Britain (Fig Tree) is out now.

MEERA SODHA'S COCONUT FISH CURRY

SERVES 4

  • 5cm ginger, peeled and roughly chopped
  • 4 cloves of garlic, roughly chopped
  • 1 fresh green chilli, roughly chopped (deseeded if you prefer less heat)
  • Salt
  • 3 tablespoons coconut or rapeseed oil
  • Optional: 20 fresh curry leaves
  • 2 medium onions, thinly sliced
  • 2 big ripe tomatoes, quartered
  • 3⁄4 teaspoon ground turmeric
  • 1⁄2 teaspoon chilli powder
  • 300ml coconut milk
  • 4 fillets (150–180g each) of MSC-certified firm white fish such as hake, pollack, haddock or cod, skinned
  • 1 lime, quartered
  1. Put the ginger, garlic and green chilli in a pestle and mortar, along with a pinch of salt, and bash to a paste.
  2. Put the oil into a wide-bottomed, lidded frying pan on a medium heat. When it’s hot, add the curry leaves if you are using them, followed by the onions, and stir every now and then for 8 to 10 minutes, until the onions are pale gold. Add the ginger, garlic and chilli paste and cook for another 2 to 3 minutes. Then add the tomatoes, 11⁄2 teaspoons of salt, the turmeric and the chilli powder. Put the lid on the pan and cook for a couple of minutes.
  3. Meanwhile, dilute the coconut milk with 100ml of water and add to the pan. When the milk starts to bubble, add the fish fillets, turn the heat down a little, cover with the lid and cook for approximately 5 to 7 minutes, or until the fish is cooked through.
  4. Serve with a big squeeze of lime and some rice.


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