A sophisticated voice on making curries

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Writing is engaging, text well-organized

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January 14, 2004|By Larry Bingham | Larry Bingham,SUN STAFF

Best-selling cookbook author Madhur Jaffrey's From Curries to Kebabs: Recipes From the Indian Spice Trail is a welcome addition to the pantry shelf for anyone who savors curries and wants to make them at home.

Fans of Jaffrey's earlier books will find this one just as well organized and as richly illustrated. The full-color photographs here are so artful and elegant they leap off the page. Best of all, they lure you through pages of easy-to-follow recipes, all introduced in the savory context of history.

Jaffrey, a former actress born in Delhi, India, and author of 15 books, including the James Beard Award winner Madhur Jaffrey's World Vegetarian, is a sophisticated voice, the kind of accomplished hostess whom cookbook readers unfamiliar with Indian culture will trust when she offers a menu pairing or a cultural reference.

Her writing style is smart and engaging, studded with personal anecdotes, but never cloying. She's wise enough to wax on the history early and keep the narratives short when the time comes to roll up your sleeves and start cooking.

In From Curries to Kebabs (Clarkson Potter Publishers, 2003, $35), Jaffrey has traced curries through history, into the cultures of Europe, Asia, Africa and South America. For her purposes, she defines curry as "any Indian dish or Indian-style dish with a sauce." That, she says, is "just as British colonists who controlled India for centuries before I was born defined it." The result is a wide range of exotic dishes.

Jaffrey organizes the curries in the book from their primary ingredients: "Lamb, pork, beef, veal and goat" is one chapter; "poultry and eggs" another; "fish and seafood" another. Other chapters round out the recipes along the spice trail: "kebabs and soups," "dals, beans and split peas," "relishes and accompaniments."

Jaffrey's spectrum includes recipes that are quick to fix, and a chapter on "special ingredients and techniques" comes in handy at the end. Novices should be warned, though, to expect to spend some money at a specialty Indian grocer to stock the pantry with spices.

Easy Chickpea Curry

Serves 4 to 6

2 cups drained weight canned chickpeas (about 1 pound, 3 ounces canned weight)

2 smallish tomatoes (about 8 ounces), chopped

2-inch piece of ginger, peeled and chopped

4 cloves garlic, chopped

3 to 6 fresh hot green chiles, chopped

1 cup cilantro tops, chopped

1 tablespoon ground coriander

2 teaspoons ground cumin

1/2 teaspoon ground turmeric

1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper

1 1/4 teaspoons salt (divided use)

3 tablespoons corn, peanut or olive oil

1 medium stick of cinnamon

5 whole cardamom pods

2 bay leaves

1 cup finely chopped onion

2 medium potatoes (about 9 ounces), peeled and cut into 3/4 -inch dice

Leave the chickpeas to drain in a colander.

Put the tomatoes, ginger, garlic, chiles, cilantro, coriander, cumin, turmeric, cayenne pepper, 1 teaspoon of the salt and 5 to 6 tablespoons of water in a blender and blend until smooth, pushing down with a rubber spatula when necessary.

Pour the oil into a wide, lidded, medium pan and set over medium-high heat. When the oil is hot, put in the cinnamon, cardamom and bay leaves. Ten seconds later, add the onion ad potatoes.

Stir and fry for 6 minutes, or until the onion is lightly browned. Add the paste from the blender. Stir for a minute. Cover, reduce the heat to medium-low, and cook for 6 to 7 minutes, lifting the lid now and then to stir.

Add the chickpeas, the remaining 1/4 teaspoon of salt and 1 cup of water. Stir and bring to a simmer. Cover, and cook gently on a low heat for 20 minutes, stirring occasionally. Remove bay leaves before serving.

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