Cooking "is a form of flattery....a mischievous, deceitful, mean and ignoble activity, which cheats us by shapes and colors, by smoothing and draping...."
Plato (427-347 B.C.) Greek philosopher quoted in Choice Cuts by Mark Kurlansky, 2002
Image from monkseaton
I can't even begin to tell you what a sumptuous experience it is to have spices sizzling away on your stove. Sumptuous in so many ways and on so many levels.
When that waft of fennel seeds, cinnamon bark, star anise, cardamon pods and cloves roasting in hot oil first hits your olfactories, it's like you've ascended some esoteric spice plane and you know you're in the very womb of nurturance. You will that aroma to seep through your body and hug every cell in it. It's precious and exotic at the same time.
Original image from here
But you know you can't let it go on forever or those spices will burn. So, somewhat reluctantly, you throw in the onions you've chopped up and the garlic and ginger you've crushed. You anticipate your sad departure from the womb of heavenly spicedom and you're starting to resign yourself to the dreary fact that you are cooking, not levitating in gastronomic nirvana, when another wave of aromas hits you.
This time, it's the combined effect of dry spices and wet, pungent condiments. Steam replaces fine smoke and you wonder how you could have ever doubted that the journey of cooking a curry could be anything but sumptuous, and yes, sensuous.
In fact, it's nothing short of thrilling as you scoop out the thick paste you've made of curry and chilly powders and water into the saucepan. The aroma thickens around you as you stir the mix slowly over a low heat. You're reminded, and not for the first time, that Indian cooking is slow cooking. Thank goodness! It's too thrilling a transcendence to want to descend from in a hurry!
You wait till the oil rises to the top of the mixture. It's one of those 'grandma's rule of thumb' things that tells you you've roasted the powders sufficiently without burning them. Ah, perfect. If there is one milestone to be proud of achieving in the curry cooking journey, it's this.
Well, from here on, it's plain sailing. You pour in the chopped up tomatoes, add sufficient water to hold a thick gravy and when it starts to boil, in go the pieces of chicken to acquaint themselves with the waiting brew.
Finally, some salt, a few bay leaves and even a teaspoon of sugar, if you please, join the party and the pot is ready to be left alone and undercover to surreptitiously work it's alchemy.
Half an hour later, and you're looking at a red sunset in paradise, conveniently in a pot and ready to be devoured. Although, if you ask me, it's best to sample the sunset later rather than sooner :)