Certain dishes will always carry certain memories in their fragrant tendrils of steam—succulent morsels of recollection.
Curry is such a dish for me.
I met my partner four years ago, and after several weeks of chaste rock climbing meet-ups and lively nights out, we finally had what might be considered a “real date” when we decided to cook a meal together.
Curry, being a shared favorite, was a natural choice.
It has, since then, become a mainstay of our relationship, though, to be honest, it is hard to say if curry is a product of our relationship or if we are a product of curry.
I will try to explain…
There are foods that we prepare, that we craft by labor and love into a mouth-watering reflection of our delicious souls. And then there are foods that in their very preparation cause us to grow into something more complex, more delicious, than we were before. These are the repasts that thrust their roots into the depths of human history and around which our stories churn and rise.
Bread, I believe is such a food, along with tea and endless varieties of stew. Curry is such a food.
Early that evening, I met this man (as yet a stranger to me) to go grocery shopping. We agonized over peppers and onions and tried and failed to find habanero peppers. We circled round, and round again, filling our cart with the building blocks of a meal—or love, for in the end who could sever her heart from her belly and emerge whole?
We gathered white wine and rum, too, and, not yet 21, I waited outside when the time came to check out.
There is no recipe for the perfect curry, and your ingredients will naturally draw from what is available. (So it is with the perfect love—there are endless permutations which might, with the right touch, approach perfection.)
There are, however, a few necessities:
Ginger, garlic and spices—I like whole cardamom, clove, cinnamon, black pepper, cumin, mustard and coriander seed, and turmeric powder, but a curry paste or powder will do the trick.
Oil or Ghee—coconut oil, vegetable oil…it all works.
Vegetables, any and all—I go for mushrooms, potatoes, carrots, eggplant and peppers, but the possibilities, truly, are endless.
Hot pepper (optional)
Salt to taste
Now, if you simply wish to make curry, there is a surplus of recipes you could follow. I want to tell you how to simmer vegetables and spices and yield something immortal.
Before you begin cooking, I recommend two things: music, and a drink. New hearts need music to learn how to dance together, and a beverage, if you wish, can help to lift their shyness. That night, I mixed a pitcher of sangria with white wine and orange rounds, ice and juice, and we danced a little closer into knowing one another.
Next you will need to prepare your ingredients: slice vegetables, and make small talk; grind spices, and share laughter; chop ginger, and remove the gaudy trappings of your Self that only food and sex seem to breach.
As you warm oil or ghee in the pan and set rice to cook beside it, learn what your lover looks like when he or she is hungry. This knowledge will serve you well.
Sautee the ginger and garlic for a couple minutes, then add the spices until their fragrance begins to fill the kitchen. The first pungent whispers of affection might escape your bodies at the same time—feel your mind twitch its nostrils with sudden interest.
Next, add your onions, then mushrooms, potatoes, carrots and other vegetables that require more cooking. (Meat, too, could enter the pot now.)
Time—how could I forget time?—is a critical ingredient in this recipe. Give your vegetables—and your hearts—time to soften.
Next add the vegetables that you wish to keep fresh, and after just a couple minutes coconut milk and, if you desire it, hot pepper. I recommend adding something spicy—even if it’s just a pinch.
Again, time time time. Enough for the flavors to get to know each other and for the music and the sangria and the aroma of an exquisite meal to work their magic. Set the table. Pour the wine. Light candles. Change your clothes if it’s been a long day.
Even run to the bedroom and work up an appetite.
Stir once in a while—your curry, your life—making certain nothing burns and ruins the whole dish, ensuring that every molecule receives the warmth and attention it needs to reach its fullest expression, and keeping inertia at bay.
Remember that it will probably taste even better after a day in the fridge. “Leftovers” is far too crude a word for food of this kind when it has had the opportunity to mature.
When it is time to eat, savor. Eat in silence, or talk while you chew. Gulp your drink, or sip it. Sit side by side or across the table; watch a movie or the fascinating evolution of your partner’s enjoyment. There is no perfect way to eat curry, just as there is no perfect recipe.
The secret is in the process. Let it teach you patience and passion, attention and flexibility. When it is finished, notice how not only your stomach is full, but your spirit as well.
Since that first “real date,” my partner and I have cooked countless meals in countless styles, but we have repeatedly looked back on that curry as a starting point, or a turning point—or perhaps an ending point. For we began cooking as strangers, but by the time the night had ended we were no longer that.
To this day, we are still picking stray remnants of that meal out of our relationship’s figurative teeth. Each time we do so, we recall its flavor and I at least recognize the beginnings of a love that continually tastes better the next day.
Love and curry, if you ask me, are not so different at the core. We might set the pot to simmer, but the story it tells is as old as history.
Author: Toby Israel
Editor: Renée Picard