I DROVE JUST 5 MILES but found myself in India—in the kitchens and at the tables of a cross-section of the 300 million Indians who follow a vegetarian diet. The seven-time James Beard Award-winner Madhur Jaffrey was presenting “Vegetarian India: A Journey Through the Best of Indian Home Cooking,” her latest of 20ish books, at Hillsdale Home Chef, a new kitchen store with classes in the rural New York county where we both have homes. (Enter to win a copy at the bottom of the page.)
“In a way,” she writes in the introduction to “Vegetarian India,” “I have been traveling for this book forever.” I suspect other readers will be grateful as I am for every mile she logged and every recipe gleaned from a vast and diverse nation of many cuisines.
In Madhur’s talk and in the book since, I’ve been transported to India’s roadside food stands offering spiced potato fritters or perhaps mung-bean pancakes (topped with chutney and perhaps an egg, please). We stopped in home kitchens, and for a workplace lunch with a Bombay jeweler; at an ashram, enjoying a simple, not-too-spicy cauliflower dish; in Southwest India for an unexpected fusion of ingredients: mushroom curry made with coconut milk.
About 200 simple-to-prepare recipes range from vegetable mains to bean dishes (or dals), savory pancakes and breads to chutneys, with a section on egg and dairy dishes included. A lemony rice is studded with peanuts and toasted lentils. Simple roasted cauliflower (the cover photo) is transformed in color and flavor with Punjabi seasonings: lemon, turmeric, ginger, cayenne, cumin, coriander and cilantro. Punjabi-style beets are an intricate but easy-to-create twist of sweet, sour and hot (laced with ginger, cumin, coriander, chili, fenugreek and turmeric, and some chopped tomato).
“For this book I am going to make you go running to Indian shops to get a few new ingredients to store in your pantry,” she writes.
I did log some extra miles in search of some of the spices, dals, chiles, and specialty bean flours for pancakes and breads, and for something called poha—a flattened rice product that makes for quick cooking and a distinctive taste and texture. It’s featured in a recipe below from the book with cauliflower and peas. Anyone near to a city need only go to the Indian market.
Of course, even I needn’t have gone anywhere since it is all also online, including at a few organic sources that caught my attention after a little searching (including this one and this one and this one).
The one herb that stopped me, when it showed up in various recipes: asafetida, a digestive also spelled asafoetida, derived from the Central Asian umbellifer Ferula asafoetida. Even the National Institutes of Health has good things to say about it.
My pantry was lacking, but no longer.
(Phool gobi aur matar wa la paha, excerpted from Madhur Jaffrey’s ‘Vegetarian India’)
A GRAND DISH that looks splendid and tastes as good as it looks. Sometimes I eat this all by itself. Other dishes, such as Mixed Dal could be added to the meal, as well as a raita, popadams, and chutneys. It is also perfect for brunch.
In India most people like their poha upmas to be fairly spicy, but you can use as many or as few green chilies as you like.
- 3 cups thick poha (flattened rice)
- 3 tablespoons olive or peanut oil
- Generous pinch of ground asafetida
- ¾ teaspoon urad dal
- ½ teaspoon whole brown mustard seeds
- ½ teaspoon whole cumin seeds
- 10–15 fresh curry leaves, lightly crushed in your hand
- 1 medium onion (about 4 oz), peeled and chopped
- 2 teaspoons peeled and very finely grated fresh ginger
- 2 cups very small cauliflower florets, – inch wide and 1 inch long, well washed and drained
- ¼ teaspoon ground turmeric
- 1 cup fresh cooked peas or defrosted frozen peas
- 1–3 fresh hot green chilies, finely chopped
- 1 tablespoon lime juice
- Put the poha into a sieve and wash gently but thoroughly in running water. Place in a bowl, cover generously with water, and soak for 2 minutes. Drain and leave in a sieve set over a bowl.
- Put the oil into a large nonstick frying pan and set it over medium-high heat. When hot, add the asafetida and the urad dal. As soon as the dal starts to pick up a little color, add the mustard seeds and cumin seeds. When the mustard seeds start to pop, a matter of seconds, add the curry leaves (take care, as they will splutter), then the onions, ginger, cauliflower, and turmeric. Stir gently for about 3–4 minutes, still over medium-high heat, until the onions and cauliflower are lightly browned.
- Reduce the heat to medium low and add the peas, green chilies, ½ teaspoon of salt, and the lime juice. Stir gently for 1–2 minutes, always lifting the ingredients from the bottom, so the peas heat/cook through.
- Add all the poha, gently breaking up any lumps. Sprinkle another ½ teaspoon of salt over it and mix gently over a very low heat for 3–4 minutes, using a flat spatula and lifting the mixture from the bottom and folding it over the rest. When the ingredients are well blended and the poha has heated through, cover and set aside until you are ready to eat.
(Excerpted from “Vegetarian India” by Madhur Jaffrey. Copyright © 2015 by Random House. Excerpted by permission of Alfred A. Knopf, a division of Random House LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher. Photo of Madhur Jaffrey by Lisa Levert.)
about hillsdale home chef
IF YOU ARE NEAR the Hudson Valley-Berkshires area (where Massachusetts, New York and even Connecticut intersect), have a peek at the events listing for Hillsdale Home Chef (above, the facade and classrooms), where cookbook authors, local chefs and others are teaching. I’ll even do a sort of “garden club” workshop there in February, themed to the subject of seeds, if you’re nearby. All their class listings, or just get details on my seed event.
enter to win the book ‘vegetarian india’
I’LL BUY a copy of “Vegetarian India: A Journey Through the Best of Indian Home Cooking,” for one lucky reader. All you have to do to enter is answer this question in the comments box at the very bottom of the page (scroll down after the last reader comment):
Are Indian recipes or flavors a regular part of your home cuisine? Tell us.
No answer, or feeling shy? Just say something like “Count me in” and I will, but a reply is better. I’ll draw a random winner after entries close at midnight Sunday, December 13, 2015; US and Canada only. Good luck to all.
(Disclosure: Purchases made from Amazon affiliate links yield a small commission.)