I’ve written a piece about the “Coriander Club”, a Bengali women’s allotment group for Fire & Knives. This dashing food quarterly is the brilliant new offering from Tim Hayward. I’m furtively eyeing up my copy as I type this, and I have to say it’s a truly gorgeous publication. Printed on thick, quality paper with eye-catching visuals, the whole thing is superbly put together and I’m incredibly excited to be featured in it. In fact, if it were somehow possible to batter, deep fry it and wolf it down, I probably would.
Nothing says welcome home to me as much as the heady perfume of a languidly cooked lamb curry, one that’s been muttering and grumbling away on the back burner for several hours. The scent immediately reminds me of eyeballing Mr Taj and his blood stained apron from behind the folds of my mother’s sari. I’d watch him, with the vaguely comforting smell of raw flesh in my nostrils as he’d casually feed a carefully selected leg through the electric saw, the searing whine of bone on metal a distant echo of the abattoir.
Several hours later my brother and I would relish the yielding velvet of garlicky flesh disintegrating beneath our tiny, greedy fingers, scooped up with hot flaky parathas. We’d fight over the precious pieces of rich bone marrow left in the pot, teasing them out with the ends of teaspoons and feasting on the spicy, buttery rewards.
I’ve made this with lamb but the spicing lends itself equally well to beef or mutton. Kitchuri (the origin of “kedgeree”) is a fantastic foil, a lightly spiced lentil and rice dish, it’s the ultimate comfort dish in Bengali cuisine, however it’s also one that I’ve never come across on any restaurant menu.
Crisp Bitter Melon
Bitter Melon, or Karella as it’s called in Bengali is a violently bitter vegetable. To temper this and extract those mouth-puckering enzymes a good long salting is required. Once broken down into paper thin crescents, fried up crisply with cumin, chilli and salt and eaten with mouthfuls of steaming rice, it makes a delicious dish, one that’s simultaneously salty, crunchy, bitter and ever so slightly sweet. These alien looking vegetables resemble warty, tubercle-ridden cucumbers and can be found in most Asian shops and markets. This recipe works well as a side with a mild dhal as a slightly sweet foil to the bitter edge, or as the palate-rocking prelude to a more substantial feast.