I went looking for 660 Curries: The Gateway to Indian Cooking after hearing Raghavan Iyer on The Splendid Table describing how to cook dal. (This, by the way, is an especially good episode of the show, as it includes an interview with Jim Lahey of My Bread and a general method of cooking soup.) The dal sounded so simple, fast, and tasty. I also the idea of cooking a hot, nutritious meal from the pantry in less than half an hour. While looking up his book, I also found a delightful little essay about dal and rice, that left me more eager to learn a bit about making Indian food.
The book introduced a different way way of think about a meal. The protein, formed by lentils and rice, or dal chawal, becomes the background for a spicy vegetable dish to star in. And if you add in the chilis requested, oh yeah, it’s spicy, a nice lingering tingle that leaves you thinking about it the next day, and eager to try more. If it’s too hot eat more yogurt. And have a beer.
So far I’ve liked all the recipes I’ve tried. There was a spicy sweet potato that was fantastic! The sections on Legumes (Dals) and Vegetables are treasure chests. If you find a vegetable that you’ve never heard of, or always wondered what to do with, there’s a strong chance you’ll find something in here.
Since the book is organized around the food, it’s not always clear which parts of India are being drawn on for the various dishes. And the only time I fixed dinner in half an hour was the time I just made dal and rice. Adding a vegetable dish turned into my usual hour of chopping, cooking, and washing up. Even then, I had so much fun cooking, it was very hard not to spatter the copy I borrowed from the library. So I bought my own.