4 mins

Why garlic is key to Indian cuisine...

What's the secret of an authentic, flavoursome Indian curry? Garlic - and lots of it!

Butternut Squash Curry (supplied: Meera Sodha)

Garlic has near-deity status in Indian cuisine. It is used in paste form, to add flavour and thickness; tangy pack-a-punch chunks are sprinkled on meats; it is minced inside naan breads and sliced up in dips. Put simply, it’s more than your average seasoning.

“Along with ginger and green chillies, garlic is the third key ingredient in Indian home cooking,” explains Meera Sodha, author of new cookbook Made In India, Cooked in Britain. “I am a garlic lover,” she confesses. “I eat it raw, pickled, sliced, crushed, minced, fried, puréed and roasted.”

Nearly all of the 130 spice-infused recipes in her book use the pungent bulb. That includes everything from make-in-minutes street food to fragrant curries and vibrant side dishes – all of which are designed to prove that the best Indian food is cooked in the home.

Meera has even included instructions for a 100 Garlic-Clove Curry: “This recipe could otherwise be named ‘an insight into the mind of an addict’,” she says. India is the second-biggest producer of garlic (behind China); the plant is grown in several states such as Gujarat, Rajasthan, Odisha and Punjab. The use of garlic is not solely about flavour, though.

This healthy bulb is packed with allicin – a compound with abundant antifungal and antibacterial properties. It’s been proven to lower cholesterol, prevent colds, treat respiratory problems and increase energy levels.

The original Olympic athletes in Ancient Greece even ate it raw to enhance their sporting performance. All that goodness does have a downside though – not everyone loves the lingering smell. Rub garlicky hands with a stainless-steel object to remove the odour; eating parsley, mint or mustard can help freshen breath.

Roasted butternut squash curry with garlic and tomatoes

Serves 4

1 large butternut squash, unpeeled, halved, deseeded and cut into 2cm-thick slices
4 tbsp rapeseed oil
Salt and ground black pepper
3cm ginger, peeled and roughly chopped
4 cloves of garlic, roughly chopped
1 fresh green chilli, roughly chopped
1 large onion, finely diced
400g tin of plum tomatoes
½ tsp sugar
1½ tsp ground coriander
1½ tsp ground cumin

1. Preheat oven to 200°C. Line two trays with foil.

2. Throw squash pieces into both trays. Cover with 2-3 tbsp of oil and season with salt and pepper. Toss together. Bake for 30 minutes, turning midway.

3. Put ginger, garlic, green chilli and a pinch of salt into a pestle and mortar; bash to a smooth paste.

4. Put a tbsp of oil into a frying pan on medium heat. When hot, fry onion until golden. Add the ginger paste. Cook for 2-3 minutes and add tomatoes.

5. Cook for 12 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add sugar, coriander, cumin, ½ tsp of black pepper and salt.

6. Cook for five minutes, adding water to achieve a good consistency. Remove butternut squash from the oven; fold into the sauce.

Recipe from Made in India, Cooked in Britain: Recipes from an Indian Family Kitchen by Meera Sodha (Fig Tree)

Words by Alex Gregg

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