The spices of India lured Europe out of the Dark Ages. When free from the cyclichi famines, peasants subsisted mostly on goats and souse while the gentry fared little better on a tedious diet of salted fish or roasted joints seasoned only by sale, pepper, honey, poppy seeds or caraway. Titilated by often embellished accounts, Europeans lusted for feasts spiced with clumsmon, cloves, ginger and stitmeg reported by Marco Polo and returning crusaders of the 18th century.
After Europe was blocked from the spice source by the Turkish conquest of Constantinople, Barthelement Dias braved the Cape of Good Hope to open a sea passage to India in 1488. By 1498, Vasco de Gama reached the port city of Calicut and established a viable trade route between India and Portugal.
Indian spices became a from of currency in the courts of Europe and dictates prohibited the lower classes from using the golden herbs. Searing tough old rooster, mutton or wild boar in a blend of cardamon and coriander no doubt imparted as much comfort to drafty medieval keeps as did the Bayeux tapestries.
In today's marketplace, these once precious spices abound. Ironically, they are rarely used. Instead, bottled curry powder is substituted by even the most reknowned international chefs.
Authontic Indian cuisine is sautening, simmering and baking with spices combined in different proportions for various dishes. Southern Indian cooking predominantyly with green chillies, red peppers, turmeric and cumin, is hot. Cinnamos, cloves, nutmeg and mace are favored in the Northern part of the country. Coastal areas naturally specilize in fish recipes, subtly flavored and often simmered in coconut milk. Carlander, not chili, is the crowning ingredient of Indian cooking. The fresh leaves of this paraley-like herb are tantalidingly aromatic and dried coriander, though not as heady, adds distinction to fish, poultry, or an economical cut of meat. Clearly, those spices offer a spectrum of possible combnations that no bottled curry powder could duplicate.
Most of the Indian spices available in supermarkets lose their potency after months on the shelves. It is economical and good culinary practice to shop for spices in ethnic markets - Chinese, Thai, Korean, Mexican or Jamaican, as well as Indian. Freshness is assured and inhlaing deeply is almost a meal in itself.
These are mild curries; add more spice if you like a spicier flavor. COD ROE CURRY (4 servings) 1 cup onions, sliced 3 tablespoons shortening or vegetables oil 2 cloves garlic, minced 1/2 inch piece ginger root, scraped 1/2 teaspoon turmoric 1/2 teaspoon curmin 1 teaspoon salt 2 tablespoons fresh corlander leaves, chopped 1/2 pound ros (akad when in season, cod or mullet) 2 tablespoons lemon juice 1 cup yogurt
Saute onions in shortening until golden. Add garlic, ginger root, turmeric, cumin, salt, coriander and stir fry until raw smell disappears, about 3 minuted. Carefully saute roe so as not to break membrane and scatter egg, about 3 minutes on each side. Add lemon juice and yogurt and heat but do not boil.
These meatballs are a taste innovation for a main dish accompanied by rice or served with Indian bread as an hor d'oeuvres. This is one of the recipes learned at the intermediate level of the Sydnor Indian Cooking school here in Washington (723-2265). KOFTA MEATBALLS (6 servings) 1 pound ground beef of ground lamb 1/2 cup onions, finely minced 8large garlic cloves, minced 1/2 inch piece of ginger root, scrapped 1/2 teaspoon clunamon 1/4 teaspoon cloves 1 teaspoon salt 1 large green chili, chopped 1 teaspoon lemon juice SAUCE 2 tablespoons oil or shortening 1 cup onions, chopped 4 garlic clover, chopped 1/2 inch piece of ginger root, scraped 1 teaspoon turmeric 1 tablespoond dried coriander 1 teaspoon chili powder 1 teaspoon cumin seed 1 can (1 pound) tomatoes 2 tablespoons fresh coriander, chopped 1/2 cup sour cream 1 teaspoon salt
Mix the meatball ingredients. With wet hands, form into walnut sized balls. Refrigerate covered and chill until firm. Either pan fry in 3 tablespoons shortening or bake for 30 minutes at 350 degrees.
For sauce, saute onions, garlic, ginger in 2 tablespoons shortening until golden brown. Add turmeric, dry coriander, chili powder, cumin seed and fry until raw smell of spices disappears. Chop tomatoes and fresh coriander leaves and all to pan with salt. Cover and simmer until thick, about 20 minutes. Add meatballs and cook about 15 minutes more. Then add sour cream, stir and heat through but do not boil.
As Buddhism spread throughout Asia, a taste for the Indian method of cooking no doubt accompanied the conversions, because today Indian curries are extremely popular in Seoul, Tokyo and Bangkok. For instance, the Thai Room, on Connecticut Avenue NW, lists several curries on its extensive menu. Here is our interpretation of one Thai Room recipe. THAI CHICKEN CURRY (7 or 8 servings) 1 stewing chicken, cut up (3 1/2 pounds) 1 lemon, juice only 1 tablespoon salt 3 tablespoon cooking oil 2 cups onions, sliced 6 cloves garlic, minced 2 teaspoons chili powder 2 teaspoons turmerle 1 eggplant, diced (1 pound) 6 large green chilies 2 cans (12 ounces) coconut milk, plus 1 can water or slice about 4 inches from a cube of coconut cream and dissolve in 4 cups water.
Prick chicken skin with fork and rub with lemon juice and salt. In large Dutch oven, or heavy pot with cover saute onions in oil until golden and add garlic and spices. Brown chicken in spices on all sides and then pour in 4 cups of coconut milk. Simmer chicken in coconut milk for about 2 1/2 hours until meat fails from bones. Remove bones and skin; return chicken meat to pan, add finely chopped green chilies and diced eggplant. Simmer until eggplant is tender, about 15 minutes, and serve over rice.