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Vegetarian India: A Journey Through the Best of Indian Home Cooking Hardcover – October 27, 2015
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An IACP Cookbook Award Winner
A James Beard Foundation Book Award nominee
A Washington Post, Houston Chronicle, Publishers Weekly, and Library Journal Best Cookbook of the Year
“Madhur Jaffrey manages to capture both the sheer vastness and variety of India, at the same time producing recipes which are easy and quick to prepare. Pulling off these two very different things—conveying how much history and variety exists in all the various Indian cuisines while making them so accessible to the home cook—is mighty impressive.” —Yotam Ottolenghi
"Madhur Jaffrey has traveled extensively through India to bring you a book of epic proportions. Vegetarian India will open your palate and mind. Within these pages, Madhur offers an approachable way to take on Indian cookery; and by following her voice, you can turn the humble vegetable into an amazing feast.” —April Bloomfield
“Madhur Jaffrey is a culinary treasure and no one knows more about Indian cooking than she does. The recipes in Vegetarian India got me more excited than meat.” —Aasif Mandvi
"Jaffrey's book does a great service by showcasing the diversity of vegetable-based cuisine in India and is guaranteed to introduce even the most well-versed non-Indian (or Indian!) cook to new techniques, ingredients, or regional variations." —Food52
“Jaffrey explores vegetarian cooking in India through regional and modern dishes, presenting uncomplicated recipes with flavor and history. Recipes and notes share a precision and detail that can come only from Jaffrey's sheer love and desire to share her life lessons through food.” —Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
“The world’s best-known ambassador of Indian cuisine travels the subcontinent to showcase the vast diversity of vegetarian dishes. Best of all: She makes them doable for the Western cook.” —The Washington Post
“Vegetarians make up a huge percentage of the population of India, and . . . have produced some of the most flavorful, delicious cuisines on the planet. Who better than Madhur Jaffrey, Indian cookbook author extraordinaire and the recipient of an astounding seven James Beard Awards, to chronicle their home cooking? In her new cookbook, Vegetarian India, Jaffrey shares her travels throughout India, as well as recipes for the diverse foods she encounters along the way. These recipes—which are inspired by the vegetarian home cooks of India—are simple in execution but incredibly complex in flavor.” —Epicurious
About the Author
MADHUR JAFFREY is the author of many previous cookbooks—seven of which have won James Beard Awards—and was named to the Who’s Who of Food and Beverage in America by the James Beard Foundation. She is the recipient of an honorary CBE from Queen Elizabeth II for her services to drama and promoting the appreciation of Indian food and culture. She is also an award-winning actress, having won the Silver Bear for Best Actress at the Berlin Film Festival, with numerous major motion pictures to her credit. She lives in New York City.
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First off, here’s some demographic information so you know where I’m coming from: I’m a mom with a school-aged family, and an experienced home cook. We are not vegetarian, but we eat mostly vegetarian meals, consuming a small quantity of meat or fish maybe once a week usually as a flavorful accent. I tend to prepare small, light, vegetable-based meals with a focus on intense flavors. I love variety and try to cook multiple brand-new recipes every week, interspersing them with dishes from a very large collection of known favorites.
So I’m always looking for good cookbooks which have new techniques and flavor combinations I can add to my repertoire, new dishes I can interweave into a week’s menu, new treatments for familiar vegetables, an introduction to new-to-me ingredients, and versatile recipes I can experiment with to make variations of my own. I am less concerned about the authenticity of recipes than I am about the tastiness, variety, and difficulty of the recipes. So I can’t comment on the authenticity of these recipes, or whether they are unusual or common, or about how well the different regions of India are represented. I am mostly commenting from the perspective of a home cook who is always looking for new, delicious, versatile recipes — especially vegetarian ones.
Madhur Jaffrey’s Vegetarian India caught my eye every time I saw it in the bookstore, and I’d flip through it and see recipe after recipe that I wanted to make. Finally, after many months, I bought it. When the book arrived I read through it, cover to cover, making a note of the recipes I wanted to make on a small notepad by my side. I do this with every cookbook I buy, and I usually end up with 5 to 10 recipes I want to try in the next week or two. But with this cookbook I ended up with A HUNDRED AND ONE recipes on my list — I wanted to make most of the recipes in this book right off the bat. They ALL looked exciting, flavorful, and light. And as I started cooking them, I found that this impression was correct.
Here are some of the specific aspects I like about this cookbook:
* Straightforward recipes that are easy to interweave with other types
I've made dish after dish from this cookbook and found them to be easy, flavorful, light and manageable for a weeknight (and many are suitable for guests, too). And more, these were approachable dishes that I felt confident intermingling with the rest of my cooking, instead of feeling like I needed to put on a whole Indian spread. I could simply add an Indian dish or two from this cookbook to an evening’s dinner — serve a dal alongside sautéed bok choy with miso ginger sauce, or chana dal pancakes next to a Southwestern zucchini soup, or spicy Indian cucumbers on top of a composed salad along with diced avocado, kalamata olives, and feta cheese for a quick no-fuss Wednesday dinner when everyone’s hungry and wants to eat NOW. This cookbook made it easy to mix and match recipes like this.
I own one of Madhur Jaffrey’s earlier cookbooks, called “An Invitation to Indian Cooking,” which is a lovely cookbook with many delicious recipes, but I found many of them to be so time-consuming that I didn’t make them very often, and when I did I felt that the amount of labor involved meant that I should really make a whole Indian spread. So I’d make five or six dishes that we'd eat over the course of a week or so, and then I’d be done with the cookbook for another six months.
“Vegetarian India,” on the other hand, was so approachable and straightforward I could just grab it for spontaneous ideas on a weeknight and weave it into our everyday dinners.
* Good introductions to each recipe
Each recipe has a paragraph or two explaining what the recipe is like and where it comes from. These descriptions help me choose what to cook. Each recipe’s introduction also includes some suggestions about other dishes to serve alongside it to turn it into a full meal — add a chutney or flatbread, or serve it over rice, or serve it next to a cauliflower dish or with a dal, etc. I appreciate these suggestions very much.
* Readable, functional, easy-to-use layout
The recipes are usually on just one page, so there’s no need to turn pages. Each one has an informative introductory paragraph at the top, ingredients on the left, and step-by-step instructions in numbered paragraphs in the middle of the page. This makes it very easy to follow the recipes, especially when moving quickly around a kitchen.
The font is quite readable: the ingredients and instructions are in black type on a white background, with the instructions in a slightly larger font size. The title and introductions are red on white in a different, sans-serif font. There are no fancy fonts or cluttered backgrounds interfering with the text. I find it quite easy to read, and critically, quite easy to find my place again on the page when I return to the cookbook.
The pages are made of heavy, glossy paper. I've spattered hot oil on them and spilled on them and they stand up to the abuse. The binding is strong -- I haven't lost any pages, and none are even loose -- and it stays open to the page you want, even for recipes at the beginning or end of the book. This is a cookbook that is meant to be used.
There are a number of beautiful photographs, but only a minority of the recipes have them. This does not bother me too much as the description in the introduction usually helps me understand what kind of dish the recipe will produce.
* Most recipes draw from a basic set of ingredients
The recipes in this cookbook draw from a modest set of Indian ingredients — once you have those you can make most of the recipes in the book. I’ve come across many cookbooks that require an exotic incredient which is never used again in that cookbook. So I end up with an expensive jar of unicorn hairs or toasted phoenix feathers which sits rebukingly in my cabinet for months, if not years, to come. Not so this cookbook. For spices, she uses cumin, coriander, turmeric, chili powder, mustard seeds, and a couple others like fennel seed, cardamom, and dried red chilis. If you can keep these on hand, plus a couple types of dried lentils (which are pretty cheap), fresh ginger, garlic, cilantro, and a few fresh chilis, you can make most of the recipes in this book.
A suggestion: Get a spice grinder if you don’t have one already. Fresh-ground spices are much more flavorful than pre-ground spices. I use a spice grinder for all my ground cumin, coriander, fennel etc. I use a simple coffee grinder (dedicated for spice-only use): a Krups 3-ounce Electric Spice and Coffee Grinder, costs about $20 on Amazon, but I’m sure there are many others out there that would work just as well.
* Lots of variations for familiar vegetables
I am always looking for new ways to use familiar vegetables, like carrots, green beans, cucumbers, peas, spinach, and so forth. Madhur Jaffrey offers lots of ways to cook these, and many of these recipes are no more difficult than what you’d find in, say, Deborah Madison’s "Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone" (another of my favorite cookbooks).
For example, Deborah Madison’s “In a Pinch Cucumber Salad" from "Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone" involves tossing the cucumbers with olive oil and vinegar or fresh lemon juice along with some dill, salt, and pepper. Easy, flavorful, and refreshing, and one of my go-to ways to whip off a quick cucumber salad. Well, Madhur Jaffrey’s "Cucumber Spears” recipe, which is easily converted into a cucumber salad by just chopping them into bite-sized pieces instead of spears, involves tossing cucumbers with ground cumin, chili powder, and lemon juice, then pouring on some sizzling oil in which you’ve briefly fried mustard seeds, whole cumin seeds, and curry leaves (I’ve made it with and without the curry leaves and both versions are good.) The end result is a crunchy, refreshing cucumber salad with unexpected zings of chili and a tang from the lemon juice and a rich depth that comes from the toasted cumin and mustard seeds. I served this at a big summer potluck and it was a huge hit — I got a lot of recipe requests. And it was no more difficult than the vinaigrette and herb version. It can be taken in all sorts of directions, too — use lime juice instead of lemon, add jicama cubes, add cilantro, pump up the chili powder for more zing or use chipotle for a smoky accent, or eliminate the chili for spice-averse relatives, cut the cucumbers into coins, diagonals, paper-thin slices, half-moons… the variations are endless. All from a single, versatile recipe.
Or take carrots and peas, very familiar vegetables. Madhur Jaffrey’s “Everyday Carrots and Peas” involves heating some cumin in oil in a skillet, adding the carrots and peas, then after a brief stir fry adding ground coriander, turmeric, chili powder, and salt, then cook till tender. This is barely more difficult than tossing them with oil and parsley but the flavor profile is completely different. It’s perfect for jazzing up a Tuesday night. Or if all you’ve got on hand is frozen peas? Try the "Simple Marwari-style Peas" — cook the peas with cumin seeds, ginger, and green chilis. There! Now you’ve taken a simple freezer staple and made it delicious with very little effort. And again, the variations are endless.
* Lots of dals
I love the rich, deep flavors and the heartiness of dals. A dal can easily anchor a vegetarian meal, and it’s very versatile: thinned a bit it becomes a soup, let it thicken and it’s a stew you can serve over rice or with flatbreads, let it thicken some more and you can shape it into patties and fry it, or turn it into a ‘base’ on which you can place interesting toppings — think strips of roasted red peppers, diced boiled egg tossed with herbs, runny poached egg sprinkled with chili flakes and nestled in a hollow on top of the dal, spiced lamb meatballs, grilled summer squash etc. (Purists would probably recoil at the inauthenticity of such variations, but I am not pursuing the authentic here… I am looking for deliciousness and variety). Dals make beautiful leftovers, too, which just improve with time, so I can make a double recipe and serve it intermittently for a week, and it can be sent in thermoses for school lunches, too. These dals are so versatile, I've always wanted to have a repertoire of them at my fingertips, and I got it with this book.
Most Indian cookbooks I’ve seen have only a couple recipes for dals. "Vegetarian India," on the other hand, has a whole chapter of them, something like twenty-six recipes! These range from black-eyed peas with cilantro and green chili to chana dal with spinach and tomato, to dals that use multiple types of lentils. This collection of dal recipes alone was worth the price of the book for me.
* Legume-based pancakes
Another aspect of this cookbook I was really interested in were the legume-based pancakes. I was not really familiar with these before getting this cookbook, but they are basically like small crepes made with chickpea flour or ground mung beans instead of wheat flour. The batter contains additional ingredients like diced onions and chilies, and lots of dry spices. The end result is a highly flavored savory “crepe” that is delicious on its own or with toppings, and can be served alongside, well, just about anything. I was particularly attracted to these as delicious, protein-rich (and low-carb) flavorful variations on flatbreads.
Okay, here are some of the recipes I’ve tried:
* Cucumber Spears: very versatile spicy cucumber dish which can become a salad on its own, or a topping on a composed salad, or an appetizer — whatever you want it to be. Don’t be put off by the fresh curry leaves, if you can’t get them the recipe is great without them. This has now become part of my rotation of "toppers" for composed salads. Also, this treatment works well with cooked beets, cold cooked carrots, lightly steamed kohlrabi, raw jicama etc.
* Simple twice-cooked eggplant: I love roasted eggplant dishes, and have made Middle Eastern eggplant dishes (from Claudia Roden, Yotam Ottolenghi etc.) so I was excited to see an Indian version. This one is very tasty and makes a good dish on its own, or you can use it as a base for other dishes (e.g. top it with grilled cherry tomatoes, spiced ground lamb, avocado, whatever). I used a jar of tomato puree instead of chopped fresh tomatoes because tomatoes were out of season and it worked fine.
* Delhi-style green beans with ginger and green chilis: Instead of tossing your cooked green beans with olive oil or butter, toss them into hot oil in which you’ve fried a variety of spices, chopped chilis, and ginger. Add the beans and finish cooking them and you’re done. Easy, delicious weeknight dinner.
* Everyday Carrots and Peas: another simple, straightforward, Indian take on familiar ingredients. Perfect for a busy weeknight.
* Roasted Cauliflower with Punjabi seasonings. Delicious variation on roast cauliflower. You cut the raw cauliflower into florets and toss them with lemon juice, spices and herbs and let them marinate for a couple hours (that was a new technique to me -- marinating raw cauliflower before roasting it). Then sauté cumin in olive oil and pour it over the florets and roast them in a hot oven for about half an hour. The end result is a nice Indian variation on roast cauliflower, making a flavorful side dish. Or turn it into a main by putting fresh skillet-toasted croutons over it (for crunch) along with a poached egg.
* Red Pepper and Tomato Soup. Delicious red pepper and tomato soup with an Indian flavor profile. The broth is made from moong dal, which gives it a deep, earthy flavor. The moong dal is strained out and can be used in a risotto (see next entry).
* “Risotto” of Dal, Rice, and Vegetables: I made this with the leftover moong dal from the red pepper soup recipe above. I found it bland, so I gave the liquid an additional kick with some bouillon, but after a day I found the risotto had improved in flavor, and could be taken many different ways: thinned, it makes a good soup; thick, it makes a great base. Serve it with something on top, like sautéed mushrooms or whatever flavorful leftovers you have going.
* Red Lentil and Zucchini Soup: earthy, summery soup which is a nice addition to the usual zucchini soups.
* My Everyday Okra: I’m always on the lookout for new okra recipes to try, and this cookbook has SEVEN. My Everyday Okra is a simple, tasty weeknight dinner. Don’t be put off if the okra becomes glutinous during cooking — I saw the strands of gluey substance form and almost threw the dish out because I can’t stand slimy okra, but I stuck to the recipe and cooked it for the full cooking time, and by the end the okra had dried up and the dish was not gluey. Big relief. And it was delicious. I’ve also made a variation of this dish by adding peeled, sautéed cubes of eggplant which is also really good — saute the eggplant first till brown, remove it onto a paper towel, and proceed with the recipe. Add it back in with the tomatoes.
* Okra with onions and green chilis: Another good okra dish, quite straightforward, works fine on a weeknight. Cook it the full length of time to get rid of any gluiness.
* Okra dry-cooked with yogurt: I put off making this one due to the wet yogurt which I thought would make the okra gluey (okra's gluey substance forms when the interior of the pods comes in contact with water). But it turns out that the gluiness gets cooked off by the time the yogurt is added. Another tasty, easy okra dish.
* Punjabi-style okra masala. For this one the okra is fully cooked first, then removed from the skillet. Then the rest of the flavorful ingredients are cooked together (ginger, garlic, tomatoes, spices) to make a sauce. The cooked okra is folded back into the sauce.
* Black-Eyed Peas with Cilantro and Green Chilis: Delicious black-eyed pea stew. Serve it as a soup or put it on rice, or spoon it into a bowl and put stuff on top of it. I cut the quantity of chilis in half to reduce the spice for some spice-averse family members who were visiting, and it was fine (okay, my mother-in-law still found it too spicy, but the five-year-old ate it happily).
* Nepalese Black-eyed peas with potatoes and bamboo shoots: tasty, hearty stew. Flavors develop and the liquid thickens over time. Making a big pot on a weekend and eating it on and off for a week works great. I added carrots to mine to increase the number of vegetables and that worked well too. Makes a great soup, stew to be served on a grain, or base to put toppings on.
* Chana Dal with spinach and tomato. We loved this one, it’s a beautiful golden dal with dark green spinach mixed in, topped with flavorful oil. Delicious.
* Indian-style bean sprouts with onions, ginger, and garlic. Nice tasty way to use up sprouted legumes if you’ve got them and are tired of putting them on salads.
* Simple Moong bean and Masoor dal cooked in the style of Uttar Pradesh Muslims. This is a FAST, easy dal (mine cooked in 30 minutes) that is very flavorful — the legumes are simmered with garlic and fresh diced chili, then mashed in their cooking water, then you sauté cumin seeds and shallots in olive oil and add them along with their oil. The end result is a soft, deeply flavored dal with bits of crunchy fried shallot and a faint zing from the chilis (most of the heat is cooked out during the simmer, but there’s still a bit left). It was easy and fast enough that I made it during the before-school rush on a weekday morning, and it was so good that I made a second, larger batch the same day to have it on hand. This is exactly the kind of flavorful, easy, everyday dal that I was hoping to find, and I can see taking it in lots of different directions.
* Chickpea flour and tomato pancakes: Okay, we love these and I’ve made them multiple times. These are like little crepes made with chickpea flour instead of wheat flour, with diced onions, chilis and tomatoes along with spices mixed into the batter. They pack a wallop of flavor. These are a little more labor intensive than some of the other dishes in this book, because they need to be made one at a time. I get four skillets going and keep the results warm in a tortilla warmer so we can eat them at the same time. I make small ones — about the size of my hand — because I find them easier to flip than larger ones. Then I serve 2-3 per person. Serve them onto warmed plates because they cool fast, but if you can’t, just gobble them up before they get cool — they’re delicious. Note that the chickpea flour has to soak for 2 hours first so these aren’t a last-minute thing.
* Whole mung bean pancakes: These are similar to the chickpea flour pancakes, and just as delicious. And they’re GREEN, which is fun (especially for kids). The mung beans need to soak for 5-6 hours first so you’ve gotta plan ahead on these. The book had many suggestions for things to put in these pancakes: crack an egg on the pancake as it cooks, or add raw shallots and peppers. I've served these with green chutney (straightforward cilantro dip with yogurt, super easy) and spicy peanut and garlic crumble (yum).
In sum, I highly recommend this cookbook if you are looking for flavorful, versatile, vegetarian Indian recipes.