Vivek Singh is one of Britain’s most celebrated Indian chefs. Classically trained in India, he’s been executive chef at The Cinnamon Club since it opened. Since then, he’s launched sister restaurants Cinnamon Kitchen and Cinnamon Soho. A frequent face on cookery shows including Saturday Kitchen and Masterchef, Vivek has also published several successful cookbooks revealing the secrets of his contemporary Indian restaurant dishes and exploring ‘curry’ from India, Thailand, Malaysia and Indonesia.
In Spice At Home, Vivek Singh brings us something new, by focusing on the more relaxed style of cooking he enjoys at home. Weaving together ingredients, flavours, techniques and influences from East and West, Vivek has created a collection of dishes that marry together the best of Asia and Europe respectively.
Introducing the book, Vivek recalls his childhood in a Bengali colliery where his father worked as an engineer. His mother cooked three or four full meals a day on a coal fire, preparing everything from scratch. With no refrigerator, she bought fresh ingredients daily and the family were taught to finish everything on their plates. Vivek expresses awe for her ability to cope with unannounced mealtime visits from friends and family, admiring her ‘flexibility, innovation and ingenuity’.
Today, living in London, cooking in the family home is a very different prospect. Ingredients are easier to source and keep fresh, storing leftovers is not a problem and meal planning is immeasurably simpler, since it’s less common for visitors to drop in unexpectedly. Another huge change is the availability of ‘the whole world’s ingredients’, especially in the capital city; ‘a melting pot of different cultures’. Vivek draws from these global influences for many of the book’s recipes.
At the heart of the book are spices. ‘India is the largest consumer and producer of spices in the world’, says Vivek, and the tradition of using spices for flavour, colour, taste, texture, preservation of ingredients and for medical and religious uses goes back thousands of years.
Vivek groups spices into three clusters – the basics, the aromatics and the rare – and gives advice on buying, storing and using them effectively. To start the lessons proper, he schools the reader in Spice Maths, a handy reference page providing six simple spice mixes for dishes such as korma, vindaloo and dhansak.
Then it’s on to the recipes themselves, divided by when they are best enjoyed – for breakfast, lunch or dinner or to entertain guests. Two more chapters share sides and sweets and at the end is a handy section on basics, covering more complex spice blends, core ready-prepared ingredients (such as ghee and crisp fried onions), basic techniques and a glossary.
There are plenty of authentic Indian recipes in the book, from poories and stuffed parathas to dal makhani and paneer and peas curry. But the dishes which excite me the most are those in which Vivek playfully applies the influences of international ingredients and cuisines. To start the day, I might make chorizo and cumin potatoes. For lunch, I lean towards Bangla Scotch eggs, a grilled chilli chicken toastie or asparagus with curried yoghurt and ‘gunpowder’. For dinner, I’m tempted by pasta moily, crab and curry leaf risotto and lamb rogan josh pithivier. When friends come to dinner, I love the idea of serving tandoori chicken pizza or Amritsar-spiced fish fingers; and who could resist ending with apple and carom seed crumble or lassi panna cotta?
Fusion is often dismissed as a dirty word by chefs schooled in a world of rigid authenticity. But in Spice At Home, Vivek shares the reality of cooking in Britain today, guiding us with skill and temptation through a glorious fusion of Indian spices and modern British cooking.
Kavey Eats received a review copy of Spice At Home by Vivek Singh from publisher Absolute Press