Hari Nayak is an Indian-born chef who now tempts the taste buds of Americans. In fact he, unlike most Indian chefs in the West, graduated from a non-Asian cookery school, and in his case the prestigious CIA. That’s not the Central Intelligence Agency of the USA but the more internationally appreciated Culinary Institute of America.
Easy Indian Cooking reflects Hari’s memories of the food with which he grew up, his unique understanding of traditional Indian food, and an appreciation of what ingredients are available to an American or European housewife. You won’t be expected to book a shopping trip to Mumbai and you won’t need to install a tandoor.
Indian food has long been popular in the UK, and Chicken Tikka Masala has been said to be our national dish, but it is now interesting food-lovers in the US – that’s Indian food, not the hybrid Chicken Tikka Masala! Yes, it’s a different flavour palate from Mexican food but Americans have always enjoyed spices of all kinds so it’s not such a leap into the culinary unknown to present them with delicious and rich flavours and textures of the sub-continent.
Hari has chosen recipes that are simple to prepare, are economic, delicious and moreish. They range from the mild and aromatic to the chilli-hot but one can vary the heat by using less spice (although I would counsel making the dish to the recipe for the first time). Those new to Indian cooking will be surprised to know that the focus is on flavour rather than heat.
One of my favourites from Easy Indian Cooking is the recipe for Vaangi Baath – Spicy Eggplant (aubergine) Rice with Mint. The basic preparation is a South Indian dish popular among the Brahmin community and seldom found in restaurants – Hari adds his own twist by using a little fresh mint.
Many Indians are vegetarian and so that cuisine offers a huge array of dishes that don’t contain meat. These are just as flavourful as those cooked with animal products but, in these days of financial gloom it’s good to take advantage of better-value (and healthier) ingredients that don’t sacrifice taste.
Hari offers a selection of lentil (dal) recipes that will likely convert carnivores to at least part-time vegetarianism. Spicy Red Lentils use those small lentils that are found on every western supermarket shelf. The list of spices might look lengthy but once you have those you will be able to make most of the other dishes in this inspiring book. These lentils make a comforting meal when simply served over basmati rice with a relish as garnish.
Easy Indian Cooking has more than 100 Indian and Indian-inspired recipes that will introduce a new audience to the vibrant tapestry of sub-continental fare, and to the skill and charm of this talented chef.
Easy Indian Cooking
Author: Hari Nayak
Publisher: Periplus Editions
Cookbook review by Chrissie Walker © 2018