Wednesday, 22 September 2010

Cooking the Books - Climbing the Mango Trees

Climbing the Mango Trees, Madhur Jaffrey's memoir, is the latest book for the online food-blogging bookclub, Cooking The Books.

I was aware of who Madhur Jaffrey was, although I don't think I have seen any of her cooking programs or her movies. I knew that she was considered very influential as one of the first people to popularise Indian cooking in the West, but I wasn't at all prepared for how gripping I found Climbing the Mango Trees.

As one of my favourite novels is Vikram Seth's A Suitable Boy, I found some familiar ground in Ms Jaffrey's story. But somehow the structure felt very much like recalling memories, which made the account seem much more real. The odd little insignificant details that you remember when thinking back made her memories very vivid to me.

I also found it fascinating from a historical point of view. To have heard Gandhi speak just a couple of days before his assassination is so extraordinary. And because I think of India as such an ancient culture, it's quite confronting to recognise how recently it was a British colony, and at what cost they gained independence. I hadn't realised the scale of the bloodshed at Partition.

One thing I did know is that the majority of "Indian" restaurants in Australia and the UK are run by Bangladeshis, Punjabis and Pakistanis. People who had found themselves suddenly dispossed at Partition.

It means that most of the food that I am familiar with as "Indian" has a distinctly Northern bent. The naan and tandoori-cooked foods that Ms Jaffrey found so novel with the influx of Punjabi refugees to Delhi are staples of Indian restaurants in the UK, but are just as delicious and enticing as she found them 50 years ago.

This is what inspired the dishes I cooked. I made mutton and spinach curry following Ms Jaffrey's recipe (very different from the one I usually make) which she describes as being like the curries her Muslim school friends had brought for lunch. I made her grandmother's delicious spiced cauliflower cheese. I made dhal (she says that at a pinch you can substitute Mexican black beans for the whole urad dal. It really isn't a great substitution and not one I would repeat). And I made naan.

Delicious, homely food with a history. You can't really ask more of a dinner; a fascinating story with wonderful recipes, you definitely can't ask more of a memoir.

17 comments:

Simona said...

Nice! I also made one of the dishes you listed, but I won't say which one here. It wasn't naan, which is something I'd like to try some day.

Debinhawaii said...

Yay! I am so glad you really enjoyed the book. ;-) Everything you made looks wonderful. With the entries in so far, I really wish we could have an in-person potluck on this one--I want to taste everything! The cauliflower with cheese is certainly going on my list to make.

Foodycat said...

Simona - that sourdough naan recipe is really delicious. I recommend it!

Deb - I may never make "ordinary" cauliflower cheese again. The spice is so good with it!

Anonymous said...

I have been experimenting with many Indian food recipes and now i follow vahchef of www.vahrehvah.com as i can see videos and learn , I think most Indians follow his recipes - a warning note that most of his food is spicy

The Cat's Mother said...

Those black beans just don't look right somehow. But the mutton & spinach looks yummy & I'm fascinated by the cauliflower cheese.

Foodycat said...

Anonymous - spicy food is good! Thanks, I will find out more about this vahchef!

Mother - the beans just weren't right at all. The flavour of the sauce was good, but they didn't collapse like a dhal should. I need to find an Indian grocer and get the real thing. I absolutely recommend the cauliflower!

mscrankypants said...

I adore a good memoir and Indian food, so I'll be sure to add Madhur Jaffrey's book to my buy list!

Cook of the House said...

I will definitely have to try this cauliflower recipe. It looks delicious. I also made an Indian flat bread: rotis. I don't think I will every buy them again!

Foodycat said...

Cranky - you'll love it. A lot of the recipes in it are really unusual vegetarian dishes.

Cook of the House - Roti sounds wonderful! I must try your recipe.

cantbelieveweate said...

Your selections more affirm my decision to wait on this book and the cuisine. I'm still warming hubby up to Indian cuisine. We live in an area where many of the refugees have settled, and he has unpleasant memories of the "leftovers" his dog brought home during his "bachelor" days. I'll get him there, it just takes the right timing!

girlichef said...

The ghandi part really struck me, as well. So fabulous! Your pictures are making me drool. ;)

Foodycat said...

CBWA - what a shame! Lead him up to it gently, maybe a bit of ginger and cumin in a pumpkin soup, or some kebabs wrapped in naan or a little chilli in cauliflower cheese?

Heather - thanks! I can totally recommend that naan recipe.

Jude said...

I have the CDs of this book and have listened to them on long journeys in the car. Madhur herself reads the book and it is totally brilliant. I picked it up for next to nothing on ebay . . .

I am really looking forward to her new TV series Madhur Easy.

Claudia said...

What a terrific meal! I am looking forward to trying the cauliflower, the mutton with spinach and, since I have sourdough starter, the naan. Which method did you use to cook the naan?

Foodycat said...

Jude - I'll have to watch that!

Claudia - I used a dry cast iron pan. A flat Le Creuset.

Wanda said...

I agree with Deb--the cauliflower with cheese sounds good. And I'll have to try making naan since I love trying different breads.

Ann said...

Wow - hats off to you for making such a complete home cooked Indian meal! Bread - check, dhal - check, vegetable side - check, heavy protein - check!
I liked how you drew out particular inferences from the book that seemed to have resonated with the your other book club members too (and myself when I read the book years ago).
That mutton dish has definitely struck my fancy ;-)

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