Cooking lessons when I was 34 and living in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia was high entertainment. With no public diversions allowed besides what we expatriates could concoct ourselves, learning to cook Indian food seemed a great departure from life on the compound. Aruna would float around her kitchen, her sari always firmly in place, making bread and navigating several flaming pots and pans at a time all the while telling us stories about her life in New Delhi- her arranged marriage and how she escaped from cooking every meal in her mother-in-law's kitchen. Afterwards we would all sit down at her table and share the feast while Aruna stayed in the kitchen preparing and bringing out fresh rotis, chapatis or naans to enjoy throughtout our meal. Aruna knew the pull this great cuisine had over me and would bribe me with naans or chicken makhani for eight in order to get a last minute appointment with me to have her hair done. While at my home whe would ply me with questions about what I was serving my guests at my next dinner party. Once, I was quite embarassed to admit that after the Indian meal I was currently planning, I would be serving creme caramel, rather than say- a cardamum rice pudding for desert. I couldn't have been more surprised when she told me she didn't like Indian deserts either.
The best Indian food I have had since Aruna's table has been in the Whitehall district of London. The best I've had here is at David Machado's Vindalho at SE Clinton and 21st. Never mind that he calls it "spice route cuisine". Yes, it's fusion, but he takes the best local ingrediats and by george, it all ends up tasting more Indian than most that define themselves as such. My favorite dish there is the pork Vindalho with it's layered spices, slow heat and that bit of vinegar that perks up a rich cut of pork shoulder. Imagine my delight when my friend B ended up getting the reicipe.
I enjoy the whole process of making this dish- roasting and grinding the spices, cooking the onions until they are a dark rich gold, and blending them all together to make the base for the cooking sauce that the pork shoulder is braised in. I can't tell you how rich and succulent this is over rice with some yoghurt and cilantro chutney on the side.
We finished with some lovely poached pears served with a reduction of the poaching liquid and some homemade vanilla ice cream. Something nice and "light" after the Vindalho. Aruna would have approved. East and west always get along at my table.