An Adventure in Curry


A shrimp-and-potato curry from the pages of "Curries of India", a 1955 British cookery book. The rim soup bowl is 19th-century German; the silver is Chinon by Christofle.

Who doesn’t like curry? This Indian standard is healthy, exotic, and escapist. Plus most recipes are blissfully easy to prepare, with only a few unusual ingredients here and there. Strangely, however, my husband and I have never enthusiastically explored making Indian cuisine at home, even though the ceiling-high ladder holding the majority of our cookery books contains a few volumes about subcontinental fare, including Curries of India by Harvey Day and Sarojini Mudnani (Nicholas Kaye, 1955).

Curries of India is a slender, deeply charming publication, from its orange-and-yellow jacket to the jolly illustrations. The chapter headings are delightful too, especially the last, “Those Alarming Side Dishes.” Clearly Indian food was still a curiosity in the United Kingdom of the 1950s, at least to some degree. Day seems to have been a devoté, however, with several curry-recipe compilations under his belt. As for his co-author, Mudnani, I have learned nothing. Could someone enlighten me about that individual’s career?

Recently we have been entranced by Curries of India and have made a few of the recipes therein. All have been toothsome and big hits within our family; even our eight-year-old daughter, Catherine, has left the table with only praise. The curry pictured above is Aloo Kolbi, composed of gently simmered shrimp, coconut, chilies, and tomatoes. Try it; you’ll like it. You might want to ramp up the spices though; I found it just the tiniest bit bland, probably the authors’ being considerate of sensitive British palates.

ALOO KOLBI

SOURCE: Curries of India by Harold Day and Sarojini Mudnani (Nicholas Kaye, 1955)

SERVES 6 PEOPLE

INGREDIENTS

2 pounds large shrimp, shelled

3 large potatoes, peeled and cut into bite-size pieces

1/2 teaspoon ground chili

1/2 teaspoon ground turmeric

2 tablespoons desiccated coconut (ie shredded)

2 large onions, finely chopped

2 green chilis, cut lengthwise

4 tomatoes, cut into small pieces

4 cloves garlic, finely chopped

1 teaspoon salt

1 cup water

2 ounces fat [ie lard; we used olive oil instead]

DIRECTIONS

Brown onions and garlic in the fat [we used olive oil] and put in tomatoes. Add a cup of water and all the spices except the coconut. Salt and simmer for 4 minutes. Add potatoes, chilies, and shrimps and cook until the potatoes are done [in other words, fork-tender but not squishy]. Add the coconut, stir, simmer gently and serve.

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10 comments on “An Adventure in Curry

  1. Sally Chamberlain says:

    This dish is perfection and you can make it ever yummier by adding chopped cilantro (Dhania, a staple of great Indian cuisine). Also, have you tried any of Mahdur Jaffrey’s recipes – her 1982 book is excellent.

    • I haven’t tried any of Jaffrey’s recipes but I will do so! And thanks for the suggestion re cilantro! That might go a long way to rounding out the flavours and adding a special zing!

  2. We alike have not ventured into curry; it seems out of range, both in skill and spirit. When I think curry, the mind goes to exotic places, empire, strife. I’m not sure I want to know how to get there, but this may very well be a silly supposition. Most likely, I’d travel much further knowing than not.

    Your daughter leaves a happy camper?! Magical!

  3. Chris says:

    Desicatted and shredded coconut are not the same-the shredded product is usually small parts, and desicatted is longer threads. I find desicated is better in dishes like this, and it also has more flavour. If you soak it in milk it also brings out the taste. And I am with you on the amount of spice. I find my children love the curry flavours, even with some bite.

    • Thank you for the explanation re desiccated versus shredded. I shall look out more closely for this kind of coconut and try the recipe again in the near future.

  4. I tried this tonight and my incredibly picky children loved it. I did use a mild curry mix, instead of the chili and tumeric. I also added a little coconut milk and served it on brown rice cooked in a mix of water and coconut milk. I didn’t have fresh tomatoes, but canned diced tomatoes worked well. Thank you for the recipe!

    • I’m so glad they liked it! And thank you for your comments re how you customized it. I think this is something people so often forget, I mean, people fearful of cooking—it’s just a recipe and often therefore has some elasticity allowed in its preparation. Especially curries, I think.

  5. Tim says:

    You note the very gentle spicing, but actually the recipe calls for 1/4, not 1/2 tsp of turmeric. Cooked it today, very successfully I’m told; for 2 rather than 6 I used about 1/3 tsp. Ground chilli, about 1/4 tsp, and less bland than I feared. I ended up adding a little more than 1/2 a cup of water, just to get shrimps and spuds 50% covered, but the coconut soaked up quite a lot and naan nicely absorbed the rest during the meal. Following my normal practice with aloo dishes, I par-boiled the tatties.

    I’ve had the book from the 1960s and have done many of his recipes; he’s pretty reliable though sometimes the timings are not given and at least once I realised, half way through, that I was supposed to have already par-boiled some lentils. There were four more books in the series, which included curries from countries east of India, very adventurous for the time.

  6. Tim says:

    Not a reply but an add-on: looked up cilantro and found it’s what I’d call (fresh or leaf) coriander. This is readily available in supermarkets these days, though not in Harvey Day’s time (when yoghurt was hard to find) and is, a Sally C says, an “Indian” staple as both ingredient and garnish. You get rather a lot in a bag, though, if you are cooking for two, so I used supermarket naan with built in coriander leaf this time. Worked OK.

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