“Because if it is, couldn’t you just use that and forget all the others?”
“No!” I say. “I’m making a fresh and distinct Balti blend.”
“OK,” says Suze, shrugging. “You’re the expert.”
Right, I think, taking another swig of wine. Start again. Coriander seeds, fennel seeds, cumin seeds, peppercorns. . By this time, I’ve given up measuring, I’m just throwing everything in. They say cooking should be instinctive, anyway.
“What’s this?” says Suze, looking at Luke Brandon’s card on the kitchen table. “Luke Brandon? How come he sent you a card?”
“Oh, you know,” I say, shrugging casually. “He was just being polite.”
“Polite?” Suze wrinkles her brow, turning the card over in her hands. “No way. You don’t have to send a card to someone just because they returned your twenty quid.”
“Really?” My voice is slightly higher than usual, but that must be because of the roasting aromatic spices. “I thought maybe that’s what people did these days.”
“Oh no,” says Suze assuredly. “What happens is, the money’s lent, it’s returned with a thank-you letter, and that’s the end of the matter. This card”— she waves it at me —“this is something extra.”
This is why I love sharing a flat with Suze. She knows stuff like this, because she mixes in the right social circles. You know she once had dinner with the duchess of Kent? Not that I’m boasting, or anything.
“So what do you think it means?” I say, trying not to sound too tense.
“I reckon he’s being friendly,” she says, and puts the card back on the table.
Friendly. Of course, that’s it. He’s being friendly. Which is a good thing, of course. So why do I feel ever so slightly disappointed? I stare at the card, which has a face by Picasso on the front. What does that mean?
“Are those spices supposed to be going black, by the way?” says Suze, spreading peanut butter on her toast.
“Oh God!” I whip the Balti pan off the stove and look at the blackened coriander seeds. This is driving me crazy. Okay, tip them away and start again. Coriander seeds, fennel seeds, cumin seeds, peppercorns, bay leaves. That’s the last of the bay leaves. This one had better not go wrong.
Somehow, miraculously, it doesn’t. Forty minutes later, I actually have a curry bubbling away in my Balti pan! This is fantastic! It smells wonderful, and it looks just like it does in the book — and I didn’t even follow the recipe very carefully. It just shows, I have a natural affinity with Indian cookery. And the more I practice, the more accomplished I’ll become. Like David E. Barton says, I’ll be able to knock up a quick, delicious curry in the time it takes to call the delivery firm. And look how much money I’ve saved!
Triumphantly I drain my basmati rice, take my ready-made nans out of the oven, and serve everything out onto plates. Then I sprinkle chopped fresh coriander over everything — and honestly, it looks like something out of Marie-Claire. I carry the plates through and put one in front of Suze.
“Wow!” she says. “This looks fantastic!”
“I know,” I say proudly, sitting down opposite her. “Isn’t it great?”
I watch as she takes her first forkful — then put a forkful into my mouth.
“Mmm! Delicious!” says Suze, chewing with relish. “Quite hot,” she adds after a while.
“It’s got chili powder in,” I say. “And fresh chilies. But it’s nice, though, isn’t it?”
“It’s wonderful!” says Suze. “Bex, you’re so clever! I could never make this in a million years!”
But as she’s chewing, a slightly strange expression is coming over her face. To be honest, I’m feeling a bit breathless, too. This curry is quite hot. In fact, it’s bloody hot.
Suze has put down her plate and is taking a large slug of wine. She looks up, and I see her cheeks are red.
“OK?” I say, forcing myself to smile through the pain in my mouth.
“Yeah, great!” she says, and takes a huge bite of nan. I look down at my plate and resolutely take another forkful of curry. Immediately, my nose starts to run. Suze is sniffing, too, I notice, but as I meet her eye she smiles brightly.
Oh God, this is hot. My mouth can’t stand it. My cheeks are burning, and my eyes are starting to water. How much chili powder did I put in this bloody thing? Only about one teaspoonful. . or maybe it was two. I just kind of trusted my instincts and chucked in what looked about right. Well, so much for my instincts.