Author Madhur Jaffrey needs no introduction. She was first known to the South Asian community as an actress associated with Merchant-Ivory movies. She settled in the United States in the early 60s, and became well known in the culinary world for her introduction of Indian cuisine to Americans. She has won the prestigious James Beard Award for six of her cook books and is often called the “Julia Child of Indian Cooking” in America. She also hosts popular cooking shows on televsion.
The contents of this book are divided into nine categories (fish and seafood, eggs and poultry, lamb, pork and beef, etc.). Each category has sub sections (appetizers, snacks and soups, relishes, and some drinks).
There is a separate section for spices, seasonings, oils and special techniques of cooking in which Jaffrey explains in detail the uses of different spices and touches on their medicinal and nutritional value. Pictorial techniques of grating ginger and tomatoes are definitely helpful for a novice cook. The index at the back is comprehensive.
Jaffrey’s extensive knowledge of food and her insights on the techniques of cooking are quite admirable. The stories are personal and the book often feels like a culinary biography.
I tried quite a few recipes from this book and found them simple and easy to cook. They are also precise, down to the amount of salt to use. My favorite was the “Rice Sticks with Brussels Sprouts,” which was an innovative way of using the vegetable. The “Sweet and Sour Pumpkin” was devoured by my pumpkin-hating teen. The “Stir-Fried Spicy Mushrooms” works well as an appetizer, though the oil in it could be reduced.
However, some of the split dals like masoor and moong turned out way too mushy when cooked for 40-45 minutes. The dessert section also lacked variety as all the recipes were dairy based.
I do understand the desire to keep spices to a minimum in order to simplify the recipes. However, the spices used were often repetitive (with an emphasis on mustard and cumin), and as a result, lacked in variety, especially in the vegetarian dishes. Regional cuisines like Goan, Chettinad, Kerala, and Sri Lankan were also very similar to each other, and thus lacked authenticity.
This book is definitely meant for a novice who has never tried Indian or South Asian cuisines. Avid cooks or professionals might find the vegetarian recipes too simple and over explained.
Here are two recipes that I really enjoyed.
Praba Iyer teaches custom cooking classes around the Bay Area. She also blogs about cooking at www.rocketbites.com.
Sweet and Sour Butternut Squash or Pumpkin (Serves 4-5)
3 tablespoons mustard or olive oil
A generous pinch of ground asafetida
½ teaspoons whole brown or yellow mustard seeds
4 cups (1 ½ pounds) peeled and seeded butternut squash or pumpkin, cut into ¾ to1 inch segments
3/4 to 1 teaspoon salt
1 ½ teaspoon sugar
1/8-1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 tablespoon plain yogurt
2 tablespoons chopped cilantro
Pour oil into the frying pan and set it over medium heat. When hot, put in the asafetida and mustard seeds. As soon as the mustard seeds start to pop, a matter of seconds, put in the squash.
Stir and fry for 3 minutes or until the pieces just start to brown. Add ¼ cup water, cover, turn heat to low, and cook about 10 minutes or until the squash is tender.
Put in the sugar, cayenne and yogurt. Stir and cook, uncovered, over medium heat, until the yogurt is absorbed and no longer visible. Sprinkle in the cilantro and stir a few times.
Stir-Fried Spicy Mushrooms
5 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 teaspoon whole brown mustard seeds
1/2 teaspoon fennel seeds
15 fresh curry leaves or 10 fresh basil leaves torn up
1 pound cremini or plain medium-sized mushrooms, cut lengthwise into 1/4 inch thick slices
1 clove garlic, sliced
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoons lime or lemon juice
1/8 spoon cayenne pepper
1-2 tablespoons finely chopped cilantro or parsley
Put oil in a large frying pan and set over medium heat. When hot, drop in the mustard seeds.As soon as the mustard seeds start to pop, put in the fennel seeds and curry leaves.
A few seconds later, add the mushrooms and garlic.
Stir and fry until the liquid begins to ooze out from the mushrooms, about 2 minutes. Now add the salt, the cayenne, and lime juice.
Stir for a minute. Taste for balance of flavors. Add cilantro, stir, and turn off the heat.
Serve warm or at room temperature.