Lands of the Curry Leaf: A Vegetarian Food Journey from Sri Lanka to Nepal
“With mouth-watering recipes and tempting photographs, Peter Kuruvita’s book is a must for anyone who wants to add more vegetables to the dinner table.”
The curry leaf (scientific name: Murraya koenigii) adds a subtle aroma and elusive flavor to dishes and tastes nothing like curry. It is essential in Southeast Asian dishes, and so it makes complete sense that a cookbook featuring foods from the Asian subcontinent would celebrate this humble green herb.
Renowned chef and Australian television host Peter Kuruvita’s latest book, Lands of the Curry Leaf: A Vegetarian Food Journey from Sri Lanka to Nepal, is a delicious shout-out to vegetables. From street foods to salads, soups, and chutneys, vegetables take center stage here. The author writes he would like this book not to be your average coffee table cookbook but “a cookbook for your kitchen. I hope it becomes well-thumbed, splattered with oil and smelling faintly of curry, cumin and a heady mix of spices.”
With mouth-watering recipes and tempting photographs, Kuruvita’s book is a must for anyone who wants to add more vegetables to the dinner table.
Kuruvita takes us on a culinary journey from his childhood in Sri Lanka “my earliest food memory is of my father feeding me with his fingers . . . rice and dhal (that) tasted of diesel from his engineering workshop . . .” to his travels through the subcontinent. The recipes reflect the history, diversity and landscape of the lands he traveled. Foods from Afghanistan, India, Sri Lanka, Pakistan, Nepal, Bangladesh and Bhutan are featured in this cookbook.
A note here about the use of the word subcontinent: While traditionally, the subcontinent refers to India, Sri Lanka, Pakistan and Bangladesh, in this book Kuruvita has included Bhutan, Nepal, and Afghanistan because he wanted to showcase the remarkable and legendary hospitality of these less charted territories.
This country, now infamous for its violence, is known for its hospitality and varied cuisine. Afghan cuisine has borrowed from neighboring Persia, Mongolia, and India and created its own unique culinary dishes. Being a vegetarian is not easy where the harsh landscape and cold winters create a need for fatty dishes, liberally laced with mutton fat. But vegetable accompaniments to Basmati rice and breads provide a variety of recipes such as Quorma-i-sabzi featuring spinach, parsley, coriander and spring onions. The qorma-i-tarkari is made with cauliflower, baby carrots, and potatoes all seasoned with dill, cumin and turmeric.
India is a land where vegetarianism reigns supreme and the cuisine is very regionally specific. In the north, wheat and meat are dominant while in the south rice and coconut products are the norm. Yet each region uses a variety of whole and ground spices to add unique flavor and depth to dishes. Indian cuisine is rich with black mustard seeds, ghee, coriander seeds, cumin, garam masala, turmeric, black salt, and asafetida.
Vegetables and spice blends play a main role in dishes such as Aloo chop (stuffed potato dumplings), Mumbai Frankie, Mugblai paneer kofta curry, Muttaikose poriyal (sautéed cabbage) and Keerai sadam (spinach rice).
This island is home to the author, and so the book is a special tribute to his homeland. Curry leaves, rice, fenugreek, curry powders, and pandan leaf are the essential flavors of this land. Even though vegetables are central to Sri Lankan cooking, “tastes in meat eating, and food in general, are more varied than you would find even across Europe’s multi-faceted populations.”
Some Sri Lanka favorites featured in this book include: Lobia masala (black-eyed pea curry), Gotu kola sambal (pennywort salad), Cheese kottu (kottu referring to the sound of kottu paddles beating on the steel griddle as the dish is being prepared), Watakolu vanjanaya (ridged gourd curry), and Seeni Sambal (sugar sambal or condiment).
Essential flavors from Pakistan include cardamom, chaat masala, cumin, dried plums, dried pomegranates, ghee, and saffron. Recipes include Malpua (fried pancakes), Piaju (crispy black lentil & onion fritters) and Daal auar chawal (Pakistani-style dhal).
Nepalese cuisine features a delicious blend of Indian and Tibetan influences. Popular dishes include spicy potato salad and Nepali-style tomato pickle and potato dishes with bamboo shoots and black-eyed peas. While the range of vegetables is limited in this harsh land, nutrient-rich foods such as potatoes, cabbage, cauliflower, leafy greens, sprouts, and pulses are an essential part of the cuisine.
Bangladesh is a land of eclectic cuisine borrowing heavily from neighboring countries. So the rich curries of India, the garlicky sweet sauces of China and bright herb-filled salads and soups of Thailand contribute to this country’s unique and delicious foods.
A dish in Bhutan is not considered tasty unless it is hot and spicy. Famous for red rice, many dishes pair this grain with mushrooms and chilies. Vegetables are scarce but lom (turnip leaves) are dried and preserved for eating during the winter months. Spinach, green beans, onions, winter squash, river weeds, bitter melon, and radishes are featured in many of the recipes.
Momos (dumplings) made with buckwheat and filled with cabbage and other vegetables are steamed and eaten with spicy chutneys.
To get the cook (and reader) ready for the journey, Kuruvita has sections on the Subcontinent Pantry and Cooking with Spices. A subcontinent panty will have a variety of spices, herbs, and foods whether it is besan (chickpea flour) or mustard oil and tamarind pulp. Once the cook has the essential ingredients, Kuruvita explains how to cook with the spices using such techniques as tempering and frying slowly. The cook will also learn about whole spices, dried spices and spice blends. Finally it is time to try out the recipes. What are you waiting for?