For this week’s Follow Friday I spoke to Dan Toombs (The Curry Guy). If you’re a fan of Dan’s, you’ll know that he’s as obsessed with recreating takeaway style curry dishes as I am and has written several books on the subject. There’s probably nothing he doesn’t know about curry!
Your Indian curry books are full of interesting recipes and have been very well received – can you tell us a bit about how the books came to be and how your passion for cooking Indian food began?
I started my food blog in 2010 because I wanted to take my Indian cooking to the next level. I moved to the UK from California in 1993 and fell in love with Indian food, especially the curries I got at local curry houses. At the time I didn’t know there was a difference between authentic Indian food and British curry house Indian food. All I knew was that I liked it and wanted to learn more.
I purchased all the books at the time to try to learn to cook my curry house favourites but they tasted different to what I got when I went out for a curry. I loved the authentic recipes I was learning too though.
When I started writing my blog, it was all about authentic Indian food. I didn’t want to just copy other people’s recipes but teach myself how to come up with my own recipes using what knowledge I had at the time.
About two years into writing my blog, followers started to ask the same questions I had: how do you recreate curry house style food? I was travelling a lot at the time with my job and started talking my way into the kitchens of curry houses around the country. My blog and focus took a new direction and I started focusing on getting ‘that’ curry house flavour.
You’ve covered in detail British Indian Restaurant style cooking as well as more traditional Indian dishes – what are the main differences you’ve noticed between the two styles?
The main difference is in the cooking style. In authentic Indian curries, a base masala is made which usually comprises of oil / ghee, chopped onions, garlic and ginger paste along with liquid like stock or water to make the sauce. In British cooking, a base sauce is used. This is a smooth sauce that is really just an onion stock with a few other veggies and spices thrown in. I think of the base sauce as a good vegetable stock – it doesn’t have much flavour but it does taste good.
That rather bland sauce is used to cook everything from the mildest korma to the spiciest phal. The magic happens when other ingredients are added to the pan to make the different curries.
Did you travel to India in order to research your books?
My first two cookbooks were all about British curry house style dishes. The research for those books was all done right here in the UK. For my third book I travelled to India three times in a year to get more authentic recipe ideas from chefs there. I got so many recipe ideas, I now have two more Indian cookbooks on the way.
Putting you on the spot, can you tell us about your three personal favourite Indian style dishes that you just always love to cook or eat?
I love the food of Kerala in southern India. It’s light but full of flavour. So one of my favourite recipes is a broccoli curry I learned there. It was made with cauliflower but I changed it to broccoli. I’m also a big fan of dosas. Once I learned to cook them, there was no turning back. These days I make them with all sorts of different fillings. I also love Pakistani lamb nihari which is served at a lot of curry houses around the UK.
What are some of the main items of cooking equipment that someone should invest in if they’re serious about Indian dishes?
In most cases, no special equipment is required. I roast and grind all my own spice blends so I couldn’t be without a good heavy-duty spice grinder. I am also a big fan of dosas so I love getting my dosa machine out to make large dosas like those you see at the best restaurants.
All that said, a cheap spice grinder and a good nonstick frying pan are all you need for the above recipes.
Similarly, what are some of the ingredients that are essential to you in recreating Indian style dishes authentically?
I always have the following ingredients on hand: Garam masala, tandoori masala, paprika, chilli powder, kassoori methi (dried fenugreek leaves), curry leaves, turmeric, garlic, ginger, onions, tomatoes, coriander, tamarind, fresh chillies and coconut milk. With these ingredients, you can make the majority of curry sauces out there.
As well as Indian food, does your passion for cooking extend to other regions and cuisines?
I have loved to cook since I was a kid. I grew up cooking Mexican, Italian, Chinese, Thai and American food. Put simply, I love food from everywhere and love trying new recipes.
Are there any other food / travel related accounts you follow that you’d recommend to people?
Give Mark Wiens a look on YouTube. He does great work.
Going back to your own website and social media accounts, what can people expect to see from you in the days ahead?
I am currently writing a Thai cookbook which will be out in 2021 so there will be a lot of new Thai recipes on the site and also videos. I have also challenged myself to go back and film all the recipes from my cookbooks for my YouTube channel. That’s a major undertaking but I will do it and I will be sharing those videos on my blog and social channels.
I wouldn’t do what I do if I didn’t really enjoy it. I love chatting on social media and I get a lot of emails and messages through Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and Instagram and do my best to reply to each of them. Please don’t be a stranger. Get in touch with recipe questions, or just to say Hi!
You can find all the information about Dan and his excellent series of cookbooks on his website: Dan Toombs (The Curry Guy).