Alongside the author of your favourite Indian cookbook, the most important person in your curry journey is your local Asian Retailer.
He (or she) is the person who’ll help you understand that Bengal gram, channa dal and kadalai parupu are one and the same thing (in English/ Hindi and Tamil respectively). He or she will tell you when delicious Indian vegetables you’re looking for are in season, and help you to pick between the myriad of chillies (red/ green/ big/ small/ hot/ mild) for tonight’s curry.
Your Asian Retailer is your guide, translator and friend rolled into one – and a team player in every curry you cook.
Which is why my weekend doesn’t really start until I say ‘hi’ to the team at The Asian Foodstore, Salisbury. Pictured above are Monir Ullah (left) and Sahab Uddin, chef at the Balti House, Salisbury.
Call me a creature of habit, but at some point every Saturday, I’ll find myself pacing the aisles at the Asian Foodstore – recipe book in hand – as I hunt down ingredients for the weekend. (That’s after we’ve bagged and set aside a dozen of their hot, fresh samosas – before somebody else buys them.)
And talking to Monir and the team, I learn something on every single trip. This week, Monir and Sahab gave me a masterclass in buying coconuts: first, the bit that everyone knows, shaking for water inside the nut and choosing the fruit that sounds most liquid; second, weighing up the sloshiest-sounding nuts in left and right hands – and picking the one that’s heaviest (with flesh full of juice).
I followed their advice. Back home, we broke open the milky-white flesh that gave us the dressing for Julie Sahni’s inspired Sprouted Mung Beans with Coconut (from Classic Indian Vegetarian Cookery). And we couldn’t have got there without the advice and raw materials from Monir and Sahab.
In the next post in Raw Ingredients: The Daily Grind: promise me you’ll never, ever use pre-ground spice