Madhur Jaffrey's Curry Nation begins on Good Food on Sunday, November 4. Nearly 30 years after introducing the West to Indian cuisine, Jaffrey reveals her thoughts on the state of Indian and South Asian food in Britain today, how it differs from the rest of the world, and why chicken tikka masala is one of the nation's favourite dishes.

By Diana Pilkington

As cold, dark nights set in, many of us will soon be reaching for a saucepan and whipping up a curry. And who better to show us how to cook the ultimate in comfort food than Madhur Jaffrey, the authority on Indian cuisine?

The 79-year-old is making a welcome return to front her first cookery show on British television for 17 years.

In Madhur Jaffrey's Curry Nation, she travels around the UK, meeting Indian, Pakistani and Bangladeshi communities and sampling their dishes three decades after she introduced the western world to the food of her birthplace.

"I loved the idea of going into people's homes and seeing the state of Indian food in Britain today," says Jaffrey, who lives in New York.

"It's improved but it's also changed. It's found its own niche and character, and it's different from Indian food anywhere else.

"If you go to Trinidad, the set of circumstances that brought Indian food there is different from Britain, and the food is different. And if you go to Guyana, Fiji or Singapore, each place has Indian food but it's different."

Her fact-finding mission revealed a varied picture - from the chips drenched in curry sauce (made from a yellow powder straight out of China) at a chippy in Glasgow, to curry-and-pint nights on Thursdays at pubs across the country, to the smart Cinnamon Kitchen restaurant in London, where chef Vivek Singh combines Indian seasonings with French techniques.

But something that stood out to Jaffrey as uniquely British was our need to categorise dishes in terms of heat.

"When you go into a restaurant, you know that a chicken vindaloo is going to be very hot and that a chicken korma is not going to be," she says.

"That's not the case in India or anywhere else because you can make anything hot or not hot. But in Britain, even a child knows that a korma will be mild."

Although some might criticise the British take on Indian food as inauthentic - chicken tikka masala, for example, often cited as the nation's favourite dish, is thought to have been invented in the UK - she only finds the differences fascinating.

Despite having a string of cookery books, shows and cooking sauces to her name, Jaffrey is modest about her own influence on the popularity of curry in Britain.

She describes herself as "an actress who cooks" (recent TV credits include New Girl and Law And Order), and says she "just happened to underline a trend that was already there" when her cookery programmes first took off. So why is our love affair with curry such a big deal?

"Britain has a very intimate history with India and it goes back several hundred years. Whether it was a good relationship or not it hardly matters. If you are in the same boat together you get adjusted to each other in some way," she says. "And of course it's delicious. It's spicy and it perks you up. And there's lots of it around."

Here are some of Jaffrey's dishes for you to try at home...

Goan prawn curry

(Serves 6-8)

2tsp olive or sunflower oil

1 medium onion, finely chopped

1tsp finely chopped garlic

1tsp ground cumin

2tsp chilli powder

1½tsp ground coriander

2 x 400ml cans coconut milk, well shaken

2tsp tamarind concentrate

3 small chicken stock cubes

4tsp caster sugar, or to taste

750g raw king prawns, peeled and de-veined

2 hot green chillies, sliced lengthways

Pour the oil into a large non-stick pan or wok, about 25cm in diameter, and set it over a medium heat.

Put in the onion and brown for about five minutes. Add the garlic and fry for a further three minutes, then tip in the cumin, chilli powder, coriander and half a teaspoon of salt.

Reduce the heat and mix well for one minute. Pour in the coconut milk and spoon in the tamarind concentrate, then crumble in the stock cubes and add the sugar.

Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to a simmer. Reduce the sauce until it is thick. Mix in the prawns and chillies and cook for two to three minutes until the prawns are just opaque and cooked through, then serve.

Goan pork vindaloo with potatoes

(Serves 4)

2tsp mustard seeds

1tsp cumin seeds

2tsp coriander seeds

3 cloves

1 medium onion, roughly chopped

5 garlic cloves, chopped

2½cm root ginger, peeled and chopped

2tsp cider vinegar

¾-1tsp chilli powder, depending on taste

2tsp paprika

½tsp turmeric

560g boneless pork shoulder, cut into 2.5cm chunks

3tbsp olive or sunflower oil

340g waxy red potatoes, peeled and cut the same size as the pork

½tsp caster sugar

Put half the mustard seeds and all the cumin seeds, coriander seeds and cloves in a lean coffee grinder or spice grinder and grind as finely as possible.

Tip this spice mixture into a blender with the onion, garlic, ginger, vinegar, chilli powder, paprika and 3 tablespoons of water. Blend until smooth.

Rub one teaspoon of salt, all the turmeric, half a teaspoon of freshly ground black pepper and 2 tablespoons of your spice paste all over the pork.

Put in a plastic food bag, seal and marinate in the refrigerator for at least 30 minutes, or longer if desired.

Pour the oil into a large, heavy-based, non-stick, lidded pan and set it over a medium-high heat. When the oil is hot, add the remaining mustard seeds. As soon as they pop, which will be in a matter of seconds, put in the remaining spice paste. Stir and fry for five to six minutes, or until the paste is lightly browned.

Put in the pork with its marinade and stir for a minute. Cover and reduce the heat to medium. Let the meat cook for about 10 minutes, lifting the lid now and then to stir; it should become lightly browned.

Pour in 750ml of water and add the potatoes, half a teaspoon of salt and the sugar. Stir and bring to a boil. Cover, reduce the heat to low and cook very gently for 50-60 minutes or until the meat is tender, then serve.

Mixed black dal

(Serves 8)

100g black lentils, also known as whole urad dal, with skin

100g mung beans, also known as whole mung dal, with skin

100g chana dal, this is inner layer of black chickpeas split in half

100g moth beans

2 medium onions, finely chopped

2cm peeled root ginger, cut into slithers

3tsp finely chopped hot green chilli

60g unsalted butter

1¾tsp salt

½tsp turmeric

4tsp garam masala

The night before rinse all four types of dal and rinse them well then combine them in a heavy-based pan about 25 centimetres in diameter. Pour in 2 litres of water and leave to soak overnight.

The next day, place the pan over a high heat and add the onions, ginger, chilli, butter, salt and turmeric. Cover and bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to low and simmer at a gentle bubble for about two and a half hours, stirring occasionally.

Check the seasoning, then add the garam masala, mix thoroughly, cover and continue cooking for 15 minutes, then serve.


:: Madhur Jaffrey's Curry Nation starts on Good Food on November 4. The accompanying cookbook, Madhur Jaffrey's Curry Nation is published by Ebury Press, priced £20. Available now