Now it may happen that you are entertaining a visitor from a foreign country. And it may be that you have learned to make a dish from this person's native land. And perhaps, in order to make your guest feel at home, you are contemplating the preparation of a meal from his place of birth.
Don't do it. Repeat: Do not do it. Do not make pasta for an Italian; do not make borscht for a Russian; and never ever make curry for an Indian. Your aim would doubtless be a noble one, the easing of your guest's homesickness. But try to look at the situation this way: better homesick than just plain sick.
The Staples: Make sure these are all on hand: salt, pepper, flour, lemon, butter, vegetable oil, rice, garlic. And these special seasonings: cumin, corriander, turmeric, fenugreek, chili powder. (Or, if you want to take the coward's way out: just curry powder.)
The Shopping List: 3 pounds of boned chicken breasts; 1 fresh coconut; 1 pineapple (fresh, if possible); 2 fresh mangoes; 1 green apple; 1 bunch scallions; 1 green pepper; 2 large onions; 3 stalks celery; 1/2 pound bacon; 1 jar of chutney; 1 small container plain yogurt; 1 can chicken broth.
Curry, in this country, can often be translated as "leftovers." The common technique is to mix any leftover meat with some chopped onion, some rice and a slug of curry powder.
Well, tonight we'll hope to do better than that. And the first improvement will be to blend our own seasonings. Thus the list of strange-sounding herbs and spices above. There may be some people who believe that curry powder comes from the curry bush or perhaps the curry nut; the truth is that it is a blend of other seasonings -- as few as five, as many as 30. Most Indian cooks would insist on the customized version, not the assembly-line model. The entire list can be replaced by one small jar of curry powder, but at least give it a try this way.
Prepare in Advance: The curry. The curry itself can be made a day ahead of time or just before it's served. Allow yourself slightly more than an hour to put it together.
Begin with the boned chicken breasts. Using a sharp knife, cut them into bite-sized pieces. Dust each piece with flour. The easiest way to do this: Put some flour in a brown paper bag, add the chicken pieces and shake them up.
Place 1/2 stick of butter and a splash of vegetable oil in a large frying pan over medium heat. When the butter is melted, add the chicken pieces -- as many as you can handle conveniently. Gook them about 4 minutes on each side and then transfer them to another bowl.
Using the same pan, adding more butter and oil as necessary, put in 2 onions, peeled and chopped; 1 green pepper, seeded and chopped; 3 stalks of celery, chopped; 2 cloves of garlic, peeled and minced; 1 green apple, peeled and cored and chopped. Cook over medium heat until they are all soft.
Add the spices. A generous amount of freshly ground pepper, a pinch of salt. A tablespoon of coriander, another of cumin and 1 of turmeric, 1/2 teaspoon of fenugreek and the same amount of chili powder. (Or, if you're taking the easy way out, 2 to 3 tablespoons of curry powder -- let your taste guide you.) Now add a can of chicken broth and bring the mixture to a boil, Lower the heat, stir in a container of plain yogurt and simmer for 15 minutes, stirring occasionally.
Add the chicken pieces, the juice of a lemon and continue to simmer over a low heat for the next 30 minutes. It can be served either immediately or reheated and used later.
6 p.m.: Cook 1 cup of dry rice, according to the directions on the box. Simmer the curry over low heat. During the cooking time, you will be putting together a half-dozen different condiments that are to be served on small plates with the curry. These small dishes, the sideshows to the main event, are passed to each diner who takes as much or as little as he/she sees fit.
Begin by frying the bacon in a large frying pan over medium heat. Cook on both sides; drain fat away on paper towels and crumble bacon into small bits.
If you've located a fresh coconut, you can begin by adding a healthy shot of the coconut milk to the curry itself. Then grate enough of the coconut meat to fill one of the small plates. If you've found a fresh pineapple, cut part of it into chunks and use that as one of the side dishes.
Chop up the scallions -- both whites and greens -- and put them on a separate plate. And most important of all: the chutney. Serve that as a side dish on its own plate.
Other popular condiments in this country include raisins, nuts and chopped hard-boiled eggs. In India they like chopped bananas, chopped onions and tomatoes served in milk and diced cucumbers in yogurt.
And after all this, something cooling and appropriate -- Darjeeling tea, served with sliced mangoes.