Cooking with Indian spices is an art. Just like an artist, an Indian cook can dabble around with spices to create a masterpiece. I love to read and try out recipes from cookbooks to see how the cook plays around with the spices and creates a work of art.

“Healthy South Indian Cooking” written by Alamelau Vairavan and her neighbor Patricia Marquardt published by Hippocrene Books, New York, is a new addition to the Indian cookbook repertoire.
This is the author’s second book featuring a healthy approach to traditional Indian cooking. The recipes have a stamp of Chettinad cooking tradition of South India. The vegetarian recipes predominate the cookbook, with a small but interesting collection of non-vegetarian recipes like Chettinad Chicken Kulambu and Meen Varuval.

The precise and detailed instructions encourage, rather than intimidate a novice. The multilingual glossary of spices, dals, and flours is invaluable when visiting an Indian grocery store for the first time. Another interesting chapter “Some general tips” is great way to make a novice cook feel at ease. In fact, to get started an initial shopping list from an Indian grocery store is provided too!
For the experienced cooks, this book offers creative variations to expand one’s cooking horizons. Recipes like Beet Vadas, Spinach Rice, Garlic Kulambu, and Cauliflower and Pasta Salad are a welcome change for parties or for everyday cooking.

The authors are in tune with the current food habits … namely the nutritional information at the end of every recipe, which will be well appreciated by the calorie-conscious folks. Every recipe has an in-depth nutritional analysis by Susan Sharer Dunn, a registered dietitian.

This book reminded me of the textbooks we had in school in India—loaded with information. I missed the personal anecdotes, memories or even first-time fiasco encountered, that are often linked with every food that we eat and enjoy. These stories give warmth and personal touch to make the book fascinating. The photos would have been more effective if it was paired with the appropriate recipes rather than having it clumped together in the center of the book.

Overall a good cookbook to add to your collection and a great gift to give to a friend or relative who has been intimidated with Indian cooking.

Here is a recipe I enjoyed, as a soup, with a friend for lunch recently.

A thin peppery soup with the sweetness of pineapple, this rasam can be served hot as a first course, or over rice at dinner.
¼ cup chopped tomatoes
¼ teaspoon minced fresh ginger root
½ teaspoon rasam powder
¼ teaspoon black pepper and cumin powder
¼ cup tomato sauce
½ teaspoon salt (more if desired)
¼ cup chopped fresh coriander
1 cup freshly cut small pineapple chunks

½ teaspoon ghee
1 dried red pepper
2-4 curry leaves
½ teaspoon mustard seeds
½ teaspoon cumin seeds

Boil 4 cups of water. Add tomato, and let it simmer, uncovered, in water for 5 minutes.

Add ginger. Simmer over medium heat for another 2-3 minutes.

Stir rasam powder and black pepper and cumin powder into boiling water.

Add tomato sauce, salt, and coriander. Stir well. Let all ingredients simmer for 5-6 minutes.

Heat ghee in a butter warmer. When ghee is hot, but not smoking, add all of the garnish items. When mustard seeds pop, pour ingredients into rasam mixture.

Add pineapple chunks to the rasam mixture and let them simmer for a few minutes before serving.

Serves 4.

Nutritional information: Calories 28; Fat trace; Saturated Fat trace; Protien 1g; Carbohydrate 7g; Fiber 1g; Cholestrol 0mg; Sodium 361mg.

Ever wondered how to cook Brussels sprouts when you see them in the grocery stores. Here is an interesting recipe to try.

About 4 cups fresh Brussels sprouts
1 tablespoon corn oil
1 teaspoon black mustard seeds
1 teaspoon urad dal
1 medium onion, chopped
½ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon chutney powder*
or 1 green chili pepper, chopped
1 can (15 ounces) chickpeas, rinsed and drained
½ cup freshly ground or powdered unsweetened coconut
Coarsely chop Brussels sprouts.

Heat oil in a large skillet or wok over medium heat. When oil is hot but not smoking, stir in mustard seeds and urad dal. Cover and fry until mustard seeds burst (listen for popping sound) and urad dal is golden.
Add onion and stir for 30 seconds.

Add Brussels sprouts, salt, and chutney powder to skillet and stir well. Cook, covered, for two minutes over medium heat. Be careful not to overcook Brussels sprouts.

Add chickpeas and coconut. Mix well and cook for an additional minute. Serves 6.

Calories 336; fat 9g; saturated fat 3g; protein 16g; carbohydrate 51g; fiber 16g; cholesterol 0mg; sodium 211mg.

Chutney powder
½ cup whole dried red chili peppers (about 16)
2 tablespoon urad dal
1 tablespoon toor dal
¼ cup curry leaves
2 tablespoon corn oil
½ teaspoon asafoetida powder
½ teaspoon salt

Separately roast red chilies, urad dal, toor dal and curry leaves each in ½ teaspoon of oil over medium heat to a light golden color.

Combine the above roasted spices with asafoetida and salt.

In a spice (or coffee) grinder, grind the roasted ingredients together to a fine powder.

Makes ½ cup

Hema Kundargi, Cupertino Fine Arts Commissioner, producer of national award wining show Indian Vegatarian Gourmet, can be reached at